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Construction and civil engineering have been the core specialist focus of both the Aberdeen and Inverness offices since day one. Since then, Search has become the most esteemed construction recruitment agency in North Scotland. We have ambitious plans to grow our team to help some fantastic development projects in an area of the world I love.
In light of this, I wanted to give you an overview of the current construction industry landscape in the Scottish Highlands. From the upcoming large projects either in the design phase or underway, to the challenges we will face in the coming years and our place in the construction market itself.
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Aberdeen and Inverness may be the biggest cities in the North of Scotland but they feel completely different in terms of the labour available and the projects commissioned there. Aberdeen is a primarily trades based market whilst Inverness predominantly focuses on civil engineering projects.
There continues to be a demand for infrastructure developments in both areas. Projects are underway redeveloping the Aberdeen Harbour with a £350 million investment and the new Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre is due to open next year after a £333m project too.
We’re also in the midst of one of Scotland’s largest residential led developments; the £800m scheme for a new community at Countesswells. The project will include up to 3,000 new homes to be built in the next 15 years.
Another area of significant investment will be upgrading of the national rail service connecting the two cities. Teams have already built new stations, extended existing platform capacities and upgraded outdated signalling works. This is only phase one of the planned development which is due to be completed in the next decade.
In Inverness-shire plans are currently in place to green light the construction of 110 new wind turbines across three sites on the Moy Estate, Gorthleck and Strathnairn. The need to develop Britain’s clean and renewable energy sources is of paramount importance to the Scottish Government. This will join the eight new onshore wind farms completed as part of a £650m investment programme in renewable wind power.
The high volume of development projects is certainly a good indication of how the Highlands’ construction scene is continuously growing and preparing for the future needs of the population. We are constantly involved with supplying site workers to help with these and similar projects in the short and long term. It is rewarding to know we are helping the smooth running of these complex undertakings.
Now to address the elephant in the room. Like every area of the UK’s construction industry, the emigration of skilled Eastern European tradesmen out of the country because of Brexit is a concern.
In the short term, the uncertainty and alarm of the initial news of the UK leaving the EU has now passed and firms, contractors and agencies are now trying to get on with the job as much as we can.
There is no denying we are finding it harder to fill every requirement presented to us with the pool of foreign workers drained in the last few months. But unlike areas in large metropolitan hubs like London and Manchester, I don’t think we are going to be as affected by Brexit when it is introduced in March 2019.
Aberdeen in particular is predicted to suffer a lot from Brexit in the oil, agricultural and fishing industries. But in terms of construction, the proportion of EU workers working in Scotland’s construction industry is just 2.6%. When compared to the 27% of workers from the EU residing in London - according to the Housing in London report - this is encouraging when we consider managing the situation over the coming years.
The collapse of Carillion was a shock to the system when news broke of the firm’s liquidation at the beginning of 2018. Inevitably this has caused some delays in ongoing projects like the Aberdeen bypass. But again, the Highlands’ area is quite lucky in that the fallout has not been extensive.
Carillion were not sole contractors in any of the major redevelopment projects in the Highlands areas so their downfall has not scrapped or significantly scuppered the local council’s plans for improving the area’s physical infrastructure.
From a long term perspective, the construction sector as a whole will have to work in partnership with developers to conceptualise and implement a clear strategy for attracting and training more talent within the existing population. Industry leaders should prioritise and support the development of innovative and higher productivity construction techniques which are less labour intensive, thus helping to future proof the industry.
Search is involved with the three largest contractors and numerous subcontractors operating out of Aberdeenshire and the Highlands. My team currently has over 220 tradesmen out on sites across scores of developments in the North Scotland area.
Across both locations we are probably the busiest overall construction recruitment agency which is something I am very proud of. This is testament to the exceptional hard work my team have put into both growing their individual desks and maintaining Search’s exceptional reputation since our offices opened for business in 2005 and 2012 respectively.
We have already seen just how much the construction industry fluctuates between boom and bust in the last 18 years alone. The overall outlook for the industry in the Highlands looks positive particularly because the construction sector may not be affected by issues like Brexit as much as other parts of the country.
We will certainly encounter challenges but the way we will remain the leading construction recruitment agency in the area is to continue to equip ourselves with relevant sector knowledge on how the industry is currently operating and adapt to how it will evolve and shift in the coming months and years.
If you’re looking for a role in construction or alternatively looking for skilled trades & labour staff in to work on your site, you can contact Angela Simpson here or alternatively, you can have a look at our latest civil and trades vacancies in the construction industry.