Infrastructure and House Building is Driving Skills Demand

20 Feb 09:00 by Jack Cornick

As featured in the Environment Times 19th Feb 2018

Jack Cornick, Health, Safety & Construction Team Leader at ALLEN & YORK, looks at the jobs market and current skills trends 2018

Housebuilding and residential town planning have been accelerating throughout the latter part of this decade in the UK and the office for national statistics reported at the end of last year, that "new private housebuilding recorded a strong end to 2017, with output up 5% – the largest increase since Q1 2016".

The necessity to build 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s, has led to growing government investment, totally £44bn to support the housing market.

This includes investment in skills, recruitment, resources and building land. On top of which, a further £204mil has been earmarked for innovation and skills in the construction sector.

So, despite the reported downturn in the construction sector, we are still seeing lots of interesting job opportunities and scope for career development via the residential construction and planning markets, as well as transport and energy infrastructure growth.

Infrastructure projects across highways, rail and energy are also benefiting from increased funding, according to details set out in the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline.  The current investment totals £460bn, looking to rise over the next ten years to around £600bn across public and private infrastructure. This gives us some reassurance that the jobs market will remain reasonably buoyant, despite Brexit concerns, around which there is still a lot of uncertainty.

Strong investment has created, from our perspective, a confident jobs market in these key areas and throughout 2017 we saw a rising demand for Planners (Town and Transport), Cost Consultants and Construction Project Managers (Highways and Rail) and Energy Managers, specifically looking at energy-in-buildings and integrated power systems.


So, let's take these markets one at a time, firstly the planning sector. The recruitment market has experienced a complete about-face over the last 10 years, from the dark days of the recession to the current surge in infrastructure development. Undoubtedly there is still a noticeable skills-gap and the demand for planners is outstripping supply (so to speak). However, this is slowly being addressed by upcoming talented graduates who are keen to learn and develop quickly, many of whom are ready to hit the ground running. As well as experienced Planners who are being tempted back from self-employment by the range of interesting new projects on offer.

From small planning consultancies to huge multi-disciplinaries, the scope of planning and development projects is evident across the sector. There are great opportunities for Town and Transport Planners to take on new challenges and increase their skills portfolio, which we find is one of the key drivers for movement in this jobs market.

Competition to win projects is fierce, so employers are not only looking for ambitious individuals who are keen to embrace new challenges, but also those with strong commercial acumen and business awareness.

Delivering pitches, winning business and creating your own client portfolio are skills that are vital in the current climate. If you are a planner looking to transfer from the public to the private sector, it can be difficult, however if there is one piece of advice we would pass on, it would be – 'think commercial' and ensure you demonstrate your experience on your CV.


The second area of focus which is pertinent to Ecobuild and sustainable design, is energy-in-buildings which has grown tremendously over the last 10 years. The skills-set has undergone a subtle shift over recent months, with a current trend towards a more technical, engineering and M&E skills base. A key reason for this is the decentralisation of the national energy supply and the growth of microgrids and district heating systems. Basically, businesses want to produce their own energy, via renewable solutions or in partnership with energy providers. According to a recent PWC survey of over 500 UK businesses, "over a third of industrial firms and one in five commercial organisations intend investing over £1m on smart and distributed energy technology by 2022".

The top energy providers are partnering with commercial businesses to build smaller dedicated power plants, which not only power the company offices, but also generate excess power which is sold back to the grid for profit. Consequently, the new generation of Energy Managers need to understand electrical and heating systems, including for example; CHP technology and biomass boilers as well as having experience of energy management systems. Sourcing talent with these skills can be difficult, which is where specialist recruitment firms like ALLEN & YORK can add real value.

Cost Consultancy 

The third and final area of focus for us is cost consultancy and project management. With the market experiencing some financial constraints and also a skills shortage, it is becoming much harder to get projects in on time and on budget. Forecasted construction costs are rising by an average of 3.5% per year as the cost of land, materials and labour continues to soar. It is therefore easy to conclude that the pressures on cost consultancies is increasing due the competitive tender process and the financial constraints effecting the industry. This area, however, remains skills short with many organisations battling to secure top candidates. With this in mind, and with construction costs estimated to rise again we anticipate demand for this skill set to increase. We will continue to work with our clients to ensure they secure the best talent across these sectors.

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