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Boom time for builders, engineers and tradesmen as skilled workers’ pay soars four times faster than inflation

Posted on November 10, 2014
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  • Annual salary survey shows lack of skilled workers driving up wages
  • Construction industry salaries are rising rapidly
  • Builders, engineers, surveyors, architects and site managers in demand
  • Housebuilder Barratt reports shortage of bricklayers and carpenters

A shortage of skilled workers in Britain is driving up wages, with salaries for many professions rising in double digit percentages, according to a study by one of the leading firms in white collar recruitment.

Professionals in the construction industry are seeing some of the strongest gains, with average salaries among surveyors, architects, engineers and site managers rising by four times the cost of living.

The figures emerge from the annual salary survey by white collar recruitment group Hays, due to be published tomorrow and seen exclusively by The Mail on Sunday.

Average earnings reported by the Office for National Statistics show rises of 0.9 per cent over the past 12 months, while Hays figures showed that skilled staff salaries were up by 1.8 per cent.

For some highly skilled individuals – notably in information technology and construction – inflation-busting gains of 10 per cent or more are not uncommon.

Hays said that its research showed the average figures ‘mask a more positive story’ for those with the skills most in demand by employers.

 Alistair Cox, chief executive of Hays, said: ‘The official figures allow some people to claim that nobody is benefiting and nobody is getting a pay rise, but that would be the wrong conclusion to reach.

‘Some are doing very well indeed. The highest growth in general is in construction and property, where there is real demand. These sectors are starting to find it difficult to recruit. They can’t find the staff easily and we are seeing it too in information technology.’

Lack of plumbers means I can earn £100,000 a year

by Sarah Bridge, Financial Mail on Sunday 

Gary Swan earns £95,000 to £100,000 a year and says that since he joined Pimlico Plumbers four years ago he ‘hasn’t looked back’.

The 38-year-old from Sidcup, Kent, said: ‘I was marched down to the careers centre by my mum when I was 16 and told that I couldn’t leave until I’d got myself a job. My dad was a plumber too, so I quite liked the idea and became an apprentice for four years.’

After qualifying Gary worked for himself but found things ‘got rather sticky’ during the last recession as prices came down and work dried up, so he joined Charlie Mullins’ team.

‘Working for them takes a lot of the hassle away,’ he says. ‘You don’t have to deal with quoting for jobs, chasing invoices, people calling you all the time. You’re just left alone to be a plumber.’

Gary gets paid by the hour for smaller jobs and an agreed day rate for big ones, but says the hours can be ‘shocking’.

‘It’s 8am to 6pm in theory, but you often start at 7.30am and are working till 8pm or later,’ he says. ‘I also work one night a week and do the odd weekend, but I don’t mind. I could work 50 rather than 70 hours a week, but I’m making hay while the sun shines.

‘I think it will continue, as there just aren’t enough tradesmen around. It suits me because it means my wife doesn’t have to work and can look after our four children.

‘I’m much better off than my dad when he was working. We’ve never had it so good.’

Cox said the figures showed there were real skill shortages in some industries, adding: ‘Having waited five years for the economic recovery it is here now in a big way and some trades are in short supply.’

Hays, which turns over more than £700million a year in its recruitment business, is focused on the white collar market, recruiting skilled professionals, but its findings echo skills shortages reported in skilled blue collar workers.

Mark Clare, chief executive of housebuilder Barratt Developments, said the recovery in construction had also revealed a shortage of skilled tradesmen from bricklayers to carpenters.

‘If you look at our sector – housebuilding – we have seen growth of 30 per cent in three years. That has put the industry under a lot of pressure to get the resources it needs.

‘A lot of people left the building industry during the downturn and are not coming back. When the sector started to pick up we have seen wages rise.’

Clare also said the state of economies in Eastern Europe, which led a lot of builders to come to Britain in the early years of this century, has been changing since 2007. He added: ‘As their economies have picked up, wage rates in Eastern Europe have gone up too. So, for many of those skilled construction workers, the incentive of coming to the UK has gone or at least is less.’

Barratt has increased its training and apprenticeship programmes in response to the shortage.

However, the shortage of skills and the higher wages demanded in the skilled professional world as a whole pose a longer term problem, according to Cox.

The Hays chief warned that in the field of skilled professionals, the shortages would last for some time as it takes years for many professionals to complete the training and gain the experience the market needs.

The demand for such skills means that employers need to be able to look overseas for experienced professionals in some fields, Cox said, raising what for some is the controversial issue of hiring skilled workers from abroad, both from inside and outside the European Union.

‘What are companies to do? You either leave these jobs unfilled or you go into the international market,’ he said.

‘If the people you want are in the EU that is straightforward. If they happen to be outside the EU that is harder.

‘Many, many companies do not bother trying to hire or look outside the EU because it is difficult to get the employees. So they leave the job unfilled.

‘That is a crying shame because when you create a skilled job it creates other jobs around it.’

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