… comes around, as discovered by those graduates who've had their pockets stuffed with cash by paranoid employers, some of whom have given themselves pay cuts … Matthew Richards reports on the 2003 Building/Hays Montrose consultants' salary guide.
What goes around comes around. That's the story behind this year's Building/Hays Montrose consultants' salary guide. Last year, partners in QS firms and architects saw their salaries pull further away from those of their employees; this year, the underlings regained some ground. Last year, infrastructure and structural specialists received the biggest pay rises among engineers; this year, it was the bridge, water and geotechnical people.

"The climate is not as generous this year because there's so much uncertainty. Bonuses are generally down", says Simon Jenkins, HR director at quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald. But he adds: "It has become harder in the past couple of years to find good graduates, so we've had to pay them a bit more. There are fewer people going into university wanting to be QSs, so we're trying to expand our recruitment into schools."

Charles Johnston, senior partner with cost consultant MDA, reports similar problems, and says his firm has started recruiting maths and geography graduates.

Big pay rises for junior architects, interior designers, space planners and landscape architects …

One caveat with all the figures is that they only provide average salaries, so there are some highly paid individuals who don't show up. For example, consultants with experience and understanding of the mind-boggling intricacies of PFI contracts are in demand and thin on the ground, so they are receiving tempting offers from rival firms.

Johnston says there's a particular lack of quantity surveyors in their early 30s, and the same applies to engineers. This is according to Charles McBeath, a director of consulting engineer Whitby Bird & Partners, who blames the shortage on graduate recruitment cutbacks during the last recession. This time around, McBeath says, the slowdown isn't hitting most of the country too hard: "The regions are quite busy, but it's easy to find good people in London."

The QS partner’s pay is down an average of 1.4% – this is the second-biggest drop in any category

In fact, the corporate downturn is making it easier for firms like Whitby Bird to persuade engineering graduates to resist the lure of the City and stick to their chosen profession. McBeath says: "People are becoming much more aware that, as an engineer, you are not badly rewarded. City pay is very hard to compete with, and it was one of the reasons why it was hard for us to recruit graduates. But now, there will be the odd superlative candidate who decides to stick to engineering – which, of course, is what you want."

John Assael, managing director of Assael Architecture, is generous about the pay rises junior architects have received. He says: "I think it's fantastic that students and young architects are forcing employers to pay them properly." He proudly states that nobody in his central London practice is paid less than £20,000 per year, and some are paid £100,000. He says: "We recently lost out to an architect who bid half as much as we did for a £30m residential project in Docklands – even though we were bidding 20% less than standard fees. I bet that architect earns £20,000 and pays his students £10,000."

Annie Architect

Age: 27
Salary: £30,000

Annie’s still getting used to having so much disposable income. It seems like only yesterday she was an impoverished student starving in a garret of her own design and slaving away for peanuts in a north London practice. But she qualified a year ago and now she’s earning a decent salary – and her boss gave her a £4000 rise for Christmas. Now that students’ pay has also gone up so much, she delights in telling her young colleagues that they’ve got it easy, and things were a lot harder when she were a lass.

Peter Partner

Age: 46
Salary: £38,000

Peter’s having a bad year. He heads the Leeds office of a medium-sized QS firm, and profit’s holding up well. But it’s hard to attract graduates, and he’s paranoid about rivals poaching his staff – so they get big pay rises, and he gets none. That conservatory he was planning to build will have to stay on hold for another year …

Gary Graduate

Age: 23
Salary: £20,000

This time last year, Gary was heading for a first-class degree in engineering and weighing up two job offers: one from an American investment bank in the City of London, the other from a successful consulting engineer. Choosing job security over a big salary, he went for the engineer. He reckons he made the right choice – a guy in his year who went to work in the City has just been laid off. If Gary does well, he could be earning big bucks in the London office in two years. But he quite fancies staying in the firm’s East Midlands office, where he reckons there’s better quality of life – and cheaper beer.

Young architects on the up

Last year’s table was a bad one for the polo necks; this one is looking much better. For one thing, pay has gone up rather than down. Equality has increased, thanks to big pay rises for junior architects, interior designers, space planners and landscape architects, combined with a modest increase for partners. The big jump of 11.4% for newly qualified architects compensates for a 5.5% decline last year: over two years, their pay has increased in line with inflation. Pay has barely changed for CAD technicians this year, perhaps reflecting a backlash against on-screen design and a move back to the drawing board. The regional disparity is particularly striking for CAD technicians: the senior ones typically earn £35,000 in London, but £22,000 in the South-west. Architectural technologists fared worst of all this year, but the swings-and-roundabouts principle applies: they saw the biggest gains in the architectural sector last year. Junior interior designers saw big increases this year, but the sector remains relatively low-paid: a senior interior designer with eight to 10 years’ experience in the north of England now earns less than a newly qualified architect in London or the Home Counties.

Surveyors: Here come the young turks

This year’s survey has bad news and good news for partners of QS firms. The bad news is that their pay is down an average of 1.4% – the second-biggest drop in any category. The good news? They are still the best-paid consultants, taking home more than their opposite numbers in architecture and engineering on average. Senior QSs below partner level fare little better, with average pay rising, although slower than inflation. But while the thirtysomethings’ pay is stagnating, the situation is better for newly qualified QSs, who made 7.8% more last year. And since they are unlikely to have mortgages and young families to pay for, these young turks probably have more disposable income than their older colleagues – so make sure they buy their round in the pub after work. For building surveyors and QSs in specialist roles, it’s cocktails all round this year. After a disappointing year in 2001, building surveyors are back on a par with QSs, and specialists such as measurement surveyors and claims surveyors earn at least as much as generalists.

Engineers: Water under the bridge

While architects’ and surveyors’ remuneration has gone down as well as up over the past couple of years, engineers’ pay just keeps inflating. This year, the bridge, water and geotechnical specialists have done particularly well, whereas last year it was structural and infrastructure engineers who saw the biggest gains. But in both years, nearly all engineers have enjoyed pay rises equal to or above inflation. London’s senior bridge engineers are the highest paid in the country. Last year, they were on a par with the capital’s structural and geotechnical specialists, but this year a whopping 12.5% increase put them in a league of their own – although still behind partners in architect and QS firms. For structural and infrastructure engineers, the pay gap is narrowing between new graduates and those with at least two years’ experience. In contrast, geotechnical, bridge and water engineers with two years’ experience have seen the biggest gains of all – for example, the bridge engineers had a massive 12.2% rise. A careful look at the data for infrastructure engineers shows some interesting regional variations. Graduates in central London and the East Midlands typically start on about £18,500. However, infrastructure engineers with at least two years’ experience earn £25,000 in London, but only £20,000 in the East Midlands. Whitby Bird’s George McBeath comments: “That could be a reflection of the experience people get in London. A lot of major projects are looked after in London offices.”

Methodology and key

The Building/Hays Montrose salary guide is compiled from a database of salary details held by the regional offices of technical recruitment consultant Hays Montrose. * Ireland figures converted from euros to pounds sterling ** National average includes Ireland figures