Careers: built environment

There is no denying times are harder – for businesses as well as employees –
but there are still opportunities for accounting and finance professionals in a
variety of different areas. The construction sector is no exception.

Construction was inevitably damaged as the knock on effects of the mortgage
crisis hit British shores. The severe lack of liquidity created by the credit
crunch meant many projects had to be put on hold. Some housebuilders, building
supplies companies or any other business that supports construction have,
unsurprisingly, seen a decline in revenue.

Exceptionally weak house sales were a major part of this: with limited
ability to borrow money, consumers have struggled to buy property, putting a
major strain on the sector. Some house building companies have seen such poor
performance that redundancies have reached the thousands as the economic
slowdown has taken its toll.

Until recently, the construction sector was enjoying unprecedented success,
particularly in the public sector where government spending on schools,
hospitals, roads and houses massively bolstered the industry. Public sector
spending accounted for £40bn of the £110bn construction industry in May this
year and although a portion has been taken away while the economy recovers,
finance professionals can still make their mark and thrive in an exciting and
challenging environment.

The opportunities

It is clearly not all doom and gloom; there are pockets of the industry where
accounting and finance professionals are still very much in demand. From what we
have seen, the industry is realising that it is imperative to maintain the
talent they have and attract the highest calibre of staff in order to succeed in
this difficult market.

Employees could well feel uneasy in an industry that, despite performing well
in such a fluctuating market, has been under considerable pressure. This has led
to businesses looking closely at their remuneration packages in order to make
them as attractive as possible to prospective employees and show their
businesses in the best light possible.

Employers have ensured earnings are in line with other sectors, and even
exceeding some, such as oil and gas, telecoms and IT, with a typical project
financial controller role paying around £80,000.

Tellingly, they have also focused on creating a clear career path and pushing
talented individuals forward within the company.

This has led to many employees being tracked closely within the business, so
senior management can see strengths and weaknesses and support their staff’s
career development accordingly.

Because bonuses, although we are yet to see what it paid out this year, and
benefits are highly competitive when compared to other sectors. Those candidates
that join are in a great position to gain better-than-average holidays, pensions
and performance related bonuses.

It is clear companies are now going that extra mile to retain talent ensuring
that the right people will want to forge a long term career that will offer ever
broadening opportunities as the economy recovers.

A key factor when employees are looking to fill positions in construction is
the niche set of skills that many of these businesses rely on. Though usually a
background in construction or property would be usual, this is by no means a
determining factor. Corporate governance of a project is particularly important,
as is an understanding of project lifecycles, risk management and controls.
Financial acumen is, like all with finance roles, a necessity but construction
roles can also offer a real vindication of the hard work put in ­ be it a
hospital, school or building.

Roles also tend to be very commercial, outward facing and client oriented
when dealing with contractors. The ability to negotiate well and influence
decision makers is key.

A strong candidate with a skill set that can be transferred easily to this
sector is in an enviable position. There is a palpable sense of competition
within the industry and employers are desperate to snap up the right people –
sometimes creating an entirely new role for them, simply to ensure they attract
that talent.

A long term view

There is no denying the problems many areas of construction has faced, but
certain parts remain relatively unscathed.

Public Private Partnerships paint an even brighter picture for the future of
construction. This umbrella term for collaborations between the public sector
and privately owned businesses plays a major part in the business models of
construction companies, providing a long term business strategy that bucks the
economic downturn. They prove more resilient to the credit crunch than other
sectors and, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the impact on UK PPPs has been
only marginal due to the use of bond finance.

An obvious example of this is the Olympics which has seen

significant demand for a variety of accounting and finance professionals. As
funding streams for these projects are agreed well in advance of any economic
issues, they are more stable and thus extremely attractive for candidates.

Despite economic unrest, the building and logistics sectors still have a lot
of momentum and need a wide range of professionals, including management
accountants, financial accountants and project managers. Top tier companies
within the sector have shown strong business performance and have actively
recruited across a variety of engineering, administrative and accounting roles.

Construction is a sector with unique challenges, with business strategies
changing to confront the current economy. Companies are not only looking to move
within the UK but to seize opportunities farther afield, such as Dubai, where
construction is ever increasing.

This exciting period in the construction sector – whether in PPPs or private
companies – offers a wide range of career paths where accounting and finance
professionals are continually in demand.

Dave Fleming is associate director of
& Clark

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