We get the lowdown on the 2003 Hays Montrose/Building contractors' salary guide, and finds most folks (outside London) have a few dollars more in their pokes – and graduates are being hunted like dry gulching bandidos.
Recruitment consultants are bounty hunters paid big money to track down wanted men and women. The biggest of these, the Pinkerton's detective agency of the British construction industry if you will, is Hays Montrose. And the 2003 Hays Montrose/Building salary guide shows that the prices on contractors' heads are outstripping inflation across the board.

The biggest increases are for those at the start of their careers: the dearth of graduates means that assistant quantity surveyors' pay rose a whopping 12.3% last year. It's not just the pay gap between young and old that's narrowing: regional divides are shrinking too, with pay stagnating in central London but shooting up elsewhere.

The reason that the workforce has hit paydirt is the most basic law of economics: supply and demand. The skills shortage means supply is low, and demand is racing ahead: construction turnover increased a healthy 4.4% last year, after growth of 8.1% the year before. It's not quite the Californian goldrush of 1849, but the industry is winning work at a heady rate, largely thanks to the government's infrastructure spending spree.

Firms are paying over the odds for juniors because it is cheaper than getting a senior person

Ian Walton, Hays Montrose South-east

"The market's busier than it's ever been, and there's a huge demand for all roles at all levels," says Akash Marwaha, Hays Montrose's area manager for the west of Scotland. "There's certainly a skills shortage in most areas, coupled with bigger developments, and that's reflected in the salaries." He cites Glasgow harbour as an example: "The old shipyard is being rebuilt into luxury penthouses."

Marwaha says junior quantity surveyors are particularly in demand: a few years ago there were 80 or 90 people a year graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an honours degree in quantity surveying, but the figure has dropped to 30 or 40. As a result, a 22-year-old QS in Scotland can now expect to earn £22,000, compared with £18,500 last year and £16,000 the year before. That represents an increase of one-third in two years. Although there were smaller increases in other regions, the national average of 12.3% in the past year shows that young QSs are highly sought-after across Britain.

Another factor increasing the demand for QSs is their expanding role in the project team. "Lots of companies are incorporating the buying function into surveying – for example, by getting QSs to handle subcontracting," says Marwaha. With QSs sourcing labour, materials and plant – traditionally the buyer's role – there is less of a demand for buyers.

Key findings

  • Average pay rises outstrip inflation for all job categories

  • Assistant QSs lead the field with the national average salary increasing 12.3%

  • The most dramatic increases are in the East Midlands, with site agents’ pay rising by more than 25%

  • Central London is experiencing the slowest growth in pay, with just five of 12 categories seeing increases

  • Across the UK, salaries grew faster this year than last for 10 out of 12 categories.