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UK civil and structural market continues to build for the future



12 months on from the initial referendum result and it is very much business as usual in the field. Confidence in the civil and structural market is continuing to increase in line with the upward trend witnessed over the past couple of years.

Encouragingly, the scope of work is high for both small and medium sized businesses largely with commercial and housing based workloads. Larger infrastructure projects continue to yield significant workloads for larger national players. Demand for talent remains fierce, as acute skills shortages continue to be felt across the sector.

Notably, there is an increased reluctance from professionals to move, and some candidates who were active are choosing to remain in their current position. In the South in particular, staff satisfaction rates are high as many professionals are content with their rate of pay and employer.

The outlook reflects results from our What Workers Want Report as employees’ factor in culture, career progression and benefits in addition to pay when considering whether to stay in a job, or move to a new one.

Currently, visual signs and indications of a busy market are evident across the country, as high levels of ongoing projects continue, with housing and infrastructure at the forefront. Whilst firms are busy, there is underlying caution with regards to where the market will go next as employers plan for the coming 18 months.

However, there is healthy competition between firms and the need for engineering professionals is causing salaries to inflate above market average, with counter offers becoming increasingly rife. Candidates are aware of their market worth, and as a result are better placed to negotiate on salary.

Spotlight on infrastructure

Economic and political changes have had limited effect upon the numerous infrastructure projects underway across the UK, and remain a key driver of growth for the industry. Projects such as HS2 are likely to continue the trend, as major civil contracts are due to be announced, resulting in a wider need for talent across the country.

There are underlying concerns within the market surrounding access for skilled migration, however the effect on skills on the ground is unlikely to have any initial impact due to contracts being signed far in advance.

Due to the forecasted pipeline of infrastructure works, companies who are awarded onto frameworks are able to better effectively plan towards their specific skills needs as demand continues for civil and structural professionals.

The consistent pipeline of works is widely felt across the whole of the UK. In Northern Ireland for example, the wage gap between mainland UK is closing, driven by local infrastructure. Demand is rising for specialist roles such as geo-technical and bridge engineering experience in addition to core roles.

Alongside major works, smaller infrastructure works are peaking across the UK through contracts and frameworks supported by local councils. Skills shortages are present here too, particularly to support drainage works and highway improvements.

Spotlight on building

Despite being a market subject to fluctuation, the commercial and housing sector is a key part of the UK construction market at present. Across the UK, regions are experiencing pre-recession levels of activity, with the latest data from the Markit/CIPS UK Construction purchasing managers' index indicating the industry as a whole is at a 17 month high, largely supported by housebuilding.

Demand for new housing is outstripping supply, and with the level of work predicted to continue, urgency amongst the sector is key for employers to retain and attract the skills they need to keep up with the pipeline of work.

As a result, structural surveyors are in constant demand, in addition to an increase in the need for graduate structural staff as firms look to better forecast, thus improving longevity in the market.

With many large residential developments underway, senior engineers with drainage experience are also vital due to changes in legislation, relating to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems, meaning employers should expect to pay above market rate for candidates with this experience.

In an area more heavily dominated by small and medium firms, in contrast to large infrastructure works, employers regardless of size are becoming more competitive in terms of the money they’re offering from a graduate level upwards.

Looking ahead

With no indication of a post-election dip, firms need to remain focused in order to hire strategically to align to the busy market at present. Although skills shortages have been ongoing for some time, there is more of an urgency to address the issue if the UK is to continue to prosper and invest in the infrastructure and residential market for the next decade and beyond.

Whilst the majority of firms are prospering, an air of caution is felt towards continued access to EU labour, skills training and innovation in construction.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs in this field, please contact your local consultant.

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