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Housing upturn reflected in sector recruitment

As housing leads the way in construction’s recovery, recruitment in the sector is also experiencing a surge.

The latter part of 2013 saw the housing market take off. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors residential market survey said the number of homes sold by those members polled in December 2013 was at its highest point since March 2008.

Unsurprisingly, this has given a major lift to recruitment, with big housebuilders and housing contractors taking on more staff.

Demand driving recruitment

Volume housebuilder Taylor Wimpey is among them. Group director of human resources Maria Pilfold says the firm started hiring in the second half of 2013, increasing its headcount by just over 5 per cent.

It is now looking to boost sales and technical staff numbers – including engineers, architects and sustainability experts – by about 10 per cent.

“We are now building full communities, not just homes, so we need more highly qualified project managers”

Maria Pilfold, Taylor Wimpey

She says the company’s recruitment has been driven by extra demand for housing, a new IT system and standards on sustainability introduced over the last few years in areas such as Building Regulations and planning.

The firm also needs sales people who can explain complex financial packages, such as shared equity, to buyers.

Range of skills needed

Ms Pilfold says Taylor Wimpey is always looking for good project and site managers, while people who also have experience of construction beyond housing could be useful.

“The things we build now are getting increasingly complex,” she says. “We are now building full communities, not just homes, so we need more highly qualified project managers.”

Housebuilding and social housing contractors Lovell and Keepmoat both want site managers, quantity surveyors, contracts managers and design co-ordinators.

Lovell is also looking for design engineers, while Keepmoat is seeking people from trainee to director level in the South of England.

For Lovell, drivers for the increase in staff are sales growth of 30 per cent between 2012 and 2013 and a rush by its housing association clients to get their homes built for the Homes and Communities Agency’s March 2015 funding deadline, explains business development director Peter Quinn.

Regional hotspots

Meanwhile Keepmoat is recruiting in order to help it build 10 per cent more homes over 2014/15.

Keepmoat group human resources director Sandra Smith says: “The South of England is one of our main expansion targets and we already looking to hire 50 more staff in the South in 2014. This will increase our workforce in the South by almost a sixth, from 341 to almost 400.

“In 2013 we relaunched our apprentice programme, which will see around 100 new apprentices recruited each year for the foreseeable future”

Richard Latham, Persimmon

“Scotland is one of our other main areas of expansion and we aim to start hiring more staff there soon as Keepmoat looks to start building its first homes north of the border.”

The bulk of the 22 per cent expansion in the workforce at housebuilder Persimmon Homes last year was in site labour and trades, such as bricklayers, joiners and site managers.

Making the industry attractive

With about 350,000 jobs lost since 2007 in construction, many firms are trying to attract back those who left and bring in fresh blood. All four firms are taking on trainees and apprentices. 

Persimmon human resources director Richard Latham says: “In 2013 we relaunched our apprentice programme, which will see around 100 new apprentices recruited each year for the foreseeable future.” 

Taylor Wimpey has 115 apprentices and expects to recruit another 100 over the next two years. It hired 47 management trainees this year and 16 to 20 graduates, compared with the 11 it took on last year.

Ms Pilfold says: “It is good to see new graduates coming in because in hard times there have not been a lot of young people coming into the industry.”

“If the housing market recovery continues as it has been doing then salary inflation could become a factor over the next two or three years”

Sandra Smith, Keepmoat

The company is also aiming for a more diverse pool of apprentices including more women and a broader ethnic mix. Lovell has also expanded its graduate scheme.

This upswing in hiring could be good news for the bank accounts of people working in housebuilding. Lovell has raised the pay of some staff after other firms tried to poach them.

Mr Quinn says: “Well-qualified staff are attractive in the current market so contractors have to do things to retain staff.” The firm also tries to attract and keep staff by offering lots of training, he adds.

Ms Smith says Keepmoat has not yet seen any salary inflation caused by the growth in housing market activity.

But she says: “Our experience tells us that if the housing market recovery continues as it has been doing then salary inflation could become a factor over the next two or three years.”

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