This year’s Hays International Salary Survey shows that potential pickings for candidates are a lot richer overseas. David Blackman looks at how the ‘Trump bump’ and Australia’s infrastructure boom are fuelling the already-strong international demand for UK construction professionals

Lands of plenty

World map

This year’s Hays International Salary Survey shows that potential pickings for candidates are a lot richer overseas. David Blackman looks at how the ‘Trump bump’ and Australia’s infrastructure boom are fuelling the already-strong international demand for UK construction professionals

The gloss looks like it may have just come off the so-called “Trump bump”, the lift in share prices that followed last November’s US presidential election. However, the global construction industry is pinning its hopes on its own version of the “bump” – Donald Trump’s planned infrastructure boost for the USA. And whatever they think about his broader policy package, the industry is agreed about one thing when it comes to the US president: the $1trn (£0.77trn) infrastructure programme will be good news.

“The ‘Trump bump’ will be coming: there will be a lot of work out there and there is a lot of work there anyway,” says Richard Steer, chairman of Gleeds.

And the US president’s infrastructure stimulus package is just one of the factors further fuelling already strong demand for UK construction professionals in overseas markets.

This year’s Hay’s International Salary Survey, which pulls together data on offers to candidates placed by the recruitment consultancy in overseas posts over the past 12 months, shows that the potential pickings are a lot richer overseas than in the UK.

At the top end, a construction project manager with five to 10 years’ experience could expect to command just over £100,000 in Australia, more than twice as much as the nearly £45,000 typical salaries on offer for those with similar experience in the UK. Australia also offers the fattest salaries to civil engineers, typically £62,775 compared with £41,050 in Britain.

Meanwhile, quantity surveyors with similar experience and in search of a fast buck should head to the US. The typical salary on offer for this bracket is £67,675, a 50%- jump on the £43,250 available in the UK.

James Bryce, director of workforce planning at consultant Arcadis, says the competition is particularly hot for experienced programme managers, particularly those with experience of running big ticket projects. “You either have to pay big money to keep those people in the UK or they will go abroad to places like East Asia,” he says.

And the appetite for UK-trained construction professionals is likely to intensify in the next few years.

“Demand remains strong for talented UK construction professionals across some parts of the world. The skills of UK construction workers, particularly quantity surveyors, estimators and project managers, are highly regarded internationally and continue to be called upon to support specific projects,” says Richard Gelder, director at Hays Construction, adding that UK chartered status is often a good calling card in many overseas territories.

Ann Bentley, global chair of Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB), says that paper qualifications tend to count for less in the US than in South Africa where they are very highly prized: “In North America, it is very much about coming up with the goods.”

[Working abroad] is an invaluable experience because you get responsibility earlier and far more involved in projects. You see how projects are run, not just UK-centrically

Richard Steer, Gleeds

The appetite for overseas work is, perhaps unsurprisingly, sharpest among the youngsters yet to be tied down by the school run.

“You can sometimes get a better pay packet, a promotion and potentially a better quality of life,” says Arcadis’ Bryce.

Steer recalls having a “wonderful experience” working in the Middle East for a couple of years.

“It’s an invaluable experience because you get responsibility earlier and are far more involved in projects. You see how projects are run, not just UK-centrically.”

Firms with an international footprint can help their staff with itchy feet to work abroad by offering secondments.

Bryce says that Arcadis ensures that staff know about foreign as well as domestic job opportunities, although he says companies won’t necessarily go out of their way to encourage staff to move: “It’s human nature for businesses to try and protect their talent pools, even if they are under the umbrella of the same organisation.”

And working abroad won’t necessarily be plain sailing. Language remains a barrier, particularly on continental Europe where fluency in technical terms will be expected from day one.

Steer says: “If one of our guys wants to work in France or Germany, they need to be technically fluent in that language, which is not so easy to find. Otherwise we will be paying them to work somewhere for a couple of years when they can’t do an awful lot. One of the joys of the US, Australia and Canada is that they speak English.”

But even in countries that share a common tongue, terminology can get in the way. The US use the term estimator to describe the work done by QSs. And UK-trained professionals may find themselves a fish out of water in different working cultures.

“People underestimate cultural differences,” says Arcadis’ Bryce, citing working hours and lunch hours as two examples.

And those contemplating switching to a different country will have to weigh up whether they want to do it for keeps or not. “After a bit you have to make a choice about whether you want to work on the expat circuit or be primarily UK based,” says Steer.

In the Middle East, for example, construction professionals will often go out for a few years before returning to the UK when they want to settle down. “People will go out for a period but will very rarely stay for the whole of their career,” says Bryce.

For those making the switch to Australia and New Zealand on the other hand, the move is more likely to be a permanent one. Firms in these countries often expect a longer-term commitment than in the Gulf, where a more rapid staff turnover is de rigeur.

Those returning to the UK will have to re-establish professional networks, says Bentley: “The biggest problem reintegrating back isn’t technical but s. Particularly for more senior staff, a big part of the job is business development. If you have been out of the market, your s might be a bit rusty.”

Gelder says, however, that employers don’t look down their noses at those who have had the gumption to relocate themselves, and possibly their families, to another part of the world.And with big projects like the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the pipeline, he says returning expats are having no problems getting jobs at the moment.

The underlying robust nature of the construction market also means that going abroad doesn’t have to be on the agenda for construction professionals, unlike in the recession of the early 1990s, when many were effectively forced to move overseas to make a living.

Hays’ Gelder says: “When we were in the last downturn after the financial crisis, there was a huge amount of noise about people going to Australia or the Middle East.”

And although the Brexit vote has fuelled concerns about the future health of the UK construction market, Gelder says it has had “no notable impact” on UK construction workers’ appetite to move abroad.

“You have a choice of working more or less anywhere in the UK and a choice of jobs on your doorstep,” he says. “The UK is such a strong market and demand far outweighs the skills available. Unless they have a real ambition to work overseas and will do it regardless, there’s no incentive because there is always a choice of jobs to active candidates.”

Focus on: US

With the US construction market already in fine shape, demand is expected to intensify over the next few years if Donald Trump’s infrastructure gets off the ground. “You would imagine that most organisations will be rubbing their hands with glee,” says Arcadis’ James Bryce.

According to Hays, employers may have to increase the amount of talent they source from outside the US as demand outstrips local supply. In-demand roles include estimators, which UK quantity surveyors are well suited to fill. “A lot of people are worried that they may not have the resources to deliver,” says Bryce. But the situation is complicated by the tortuous visa process. RLB’s Bentley says: “The visa situation is so different that bringing people in from anywhere else than Canada is nigh on impossible.” If an employer is keen to get a prospective employee into the country they will have to be prepared to shoulder the burden, says Hays.

In demand: Estimators (quantity surveyors) and senior project managers.

Canada

Construction markets in Ontario and British Columbia are very strong following high foreign investment which has resulted in a busy real estate market. Ongoing infrastructure investment from the government is also leading hires in this area.

In demand: Quantity surveyors.

Ireland

Ireland has the fastest growing economy in Europe and the construction sector is growing at a faster rate. Although Ireland has relied on multinationals in recent years to drive growth, recently the SME sector has begun to grow again and this means growth outside of the main population areas too. Given the recent political changes in the UK, Ireland can be seen as an attractive location – still in the EU, English speaking and not too far from “home” with a buoyant economy and attractive career prospects.

In demand: Quantity surveyors, site engineers, health and safety officers, project managers and building surveyors.

France and Luxembourg

Looking at the Brexit impact, there are concerns that the visa process, which is currently quite simple, could change as the UK moves through the Brexit process. Employers are unlikely to consider candidates who do not speak the local language.

In demand: Cost managers and senior project managers.

Czech Republic

Work opportunities for expats are predominately found in the property sector, as development and construction work now requires local knowledge of permitting procedures and specifics of the local market.

In demand: Cost managers and senior project managers.

Singapore

Singapore’s economy expanded at a faster-than-expected – 1.8% growth year-on-year in the final three months of 2016 – and is expected to grow at a similar rate for the rest of this year. The market continues to be driven by public sector funding on transport and infrastructure works, with 65% of the total value of this year’s construction projects driven by public sector demand.

In demand: Design engineers/design managers with experience of transport and infrastructure projects.

Focus on: Australia

“It’s a good reason to get the suntan lotion and put a shrimp on the barbie,” says Gleeds’ Richard Steer, when presented with the headline results of this year’s Hays International Salary Survey. And Australia certainly seems to be the place to be for construction professionals in search of a substantial pay rise.

The Australian economy might have been expected to dip following the cooling a couple of years ago of the mining boom, which has fuelled the country’s growth over the last two decades. But that is far from the case, according to RLB’s Ann Bentley, just back from a global internal company conference for the firm in Australia. “There is still a heck of a lot of work going on in Australia,” she says, noting that the firm’s offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne have all just had record years.

Across the country, demand is strong for all kinds of construction professionals with the country’s major cities experiencing their own infrastructure booms. In New South Wales, project engineers, project managers, forepersons and estimators are required for major rail projects including the Sydney Metro, Sydney Light Rail and the Parramatta Light Rail. Overseas investment is fuelling a high-rise residential boom in Brisbane and along the nearby Gold Coast. Even in Perth, the big city potentially most vulnerable to the mining slowdown, civil construction is powering ahead, thanks to highway extensions and the new A$2.2bn (£1.3bn) rail link to the city’s airport, which is scheduled for completion in 2020. In Melbourne, meanwhile, high-rise apartments are spreading from the city’s central business district to the suburbs. And within Australian Capital Territories, the A$700m light rail project and associated commercial and residential work is further inflating salaries for in-demand project managers and site managers, contract administrators, civil forepersons and project engineers. And there is the added benefit that it remains easy for UK expats to adjust to local living with a good work-life balance and little stress.

In demand: Architects and building engineers with huge demand for BIM/REVIT skills.

New Zealand

Experienced technicians and registered architects are in demand as Christchurch moves into the next phase of its central business district commercial rebuild, Wellington recovers from recent earthquakes, and Auckland drives ahead with new commercial and residential projects.

In demand: All areas of construction and engineering.

Construction project managers

Country(5-10 yrs industry experience)(10+ yrs industry experience)
Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)
20172016201720162017201620172016
Australia101-88 - 11671 - 112---82 - 122
US82-54 - 132-----
Canada514937 - 9132 - 75516337 - 9149 - 81
France573351 - 6432 - 37724064 - 8137 - 43
Ireland623952 - 6936 - 43695565 - 7451 - 59
Luxembourg57-51 - 64 72-64 - 81-
New Zealand755269 - 8545 - 61855675 - 9652 - 66
Singapore666153 - 7949 - 73777166 - 10761 - 99
Czech Republic36-24 - 48---36+-
UK454343 - 5041 - 48535150 - 5548 - 53

Quantity surveyors

Country(5-10 yrs industry experience)(10+ yrs industry experience)
Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)
20172016201720162017201620172016
Australia51-46 - 6961 - 8771-49 - 7771 - 92
US68-39 - 101-----
Canada534522 - 7933 - 59535822 - 7949 - 75
France573451 - 6430 - 42724464 - 8042 - 51
Ireland504343 - 5639 - 47585543 - 7047 - 59
Luxembourg57-51 - 64-72-64 - 80-
New Zealand324727 - 3742 - 51645653 - 7547 - 61
Singapore565240 - 7936 - 73797359 - 11955 - 109
Czech Republic22-17 - 24-27-24 - 30-
UK444242 - 4641 - 44494746 - 5345 - 52

Architects

Country(5-10 yrs industry experience)(10+ yrs industry experience)
Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)
20172016201720162017201620172016
Australia5146 - 6341 - 516863 - 8656 - 71
US--------
Canada-42-30 - 67-52-38 - 67
France573951 - 6337 - 41724464 - 8141 - 50
Ireland383632 - 4232 - 40474942 - 5939 - 58
Luxembourg57-51 - 63-72-63 - 81-
New Zealand434548 - 6433 - 56645664 -7451 - 61
Singapore403736 - 5634 - 52565266+37 - 61
Czech Republic22-19 - 24-31-22 - 54-
UK424240 - 4839 - 47494846 - 5145 - 50

Civil engineers

Country(5-10 yrs industry experience)(10+ yrs industry experience)
Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)
20172016201720162017201620172016
Australia63-46 - 6966 - 82-77 - 94
US--------
Canada423928 - 6230 - 49425128 - 6243 - 70
France444338 - 5139 - 47-5351+47 - 59
Ireland383632 -4232 - 40474442 - 5938 - 55
Luxembourg44-38 - 51---51+-
New Zealand594432 - 6935 - 47-56-47 - 75
Singapore434036 - 5634 - 52666153 - 9949 - 91
Czech Republic25-19 - 31-31-24 - 38-
UK414036 - 4635 - 45535348 - 5647 - 54

Structural engineers

Country(5-10 yrs industry experience)(10+ yrs industry experience)
Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)Typical salary (£k)Typical salary range (£k)
20172016201720162017201620172016
Australia51-46 - 69-----
US--------
Canada-------
France473638 - 5534 - 39594347 - 7239 - 47
Ireland383632 - 4232 - 40474442 - 5938 - 55
Luxembourg47-38 - 55-59-47 - 72-
New Zealand594432 - 6935 - 51-56-47 - 70
Singapore434036 - 5634 - 52666153 - 8249 - 76
Czech Republic20-17 - 24-29-24 - 35-
UK434241 - 5040 - 49545248 - 6047 - 58

Methodology

The Hays Construction International Salary Guide 2017, in association with Building, is based on salaries of candidates placed by Hays within the past 12 months and salary expectations for UK expats. UK figures are typical salaries reflecting the findings of the Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2017. The guide is compiled by staff worldwide who understand the local markets and are specialists in the built environment. The salaries are typical annual salaries for permanent positions and are guide figures only due to possible discrepancies in terminology, purchasing power and local variations. They also do not take into account local government tax regimes, hours of work and currency of payment. The salary figures have been converted into £, based on conversion rates applied in May 2017.

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