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August 13, 2010

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Training and career development – Money too tight to mention?

With the sharpest cuts to hit Britain’s public spending since the Second World War and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting 610,000 public-sector job losses over the next six years,1 Gemma Dickinson asks how will the new age of austerity affect health and safety professionals? 

Like every sector of the economy, health and safety has been affected by the global recession. However, there is evidence that the profession has weathered the recession quite well, according to Hazel Harvey, professional affairs director at IOSH, who said: “Encouragingly, in our 2009 ‘Salary and Attitudes’ survey of members, 61 per cent of in-house health and safety professionals who responded felt their organisation was more committed to health and safety than five years ago.”2 

So what is the future for UK industry and where are the opportunities for health and safety professionals?

Building boost

A high-profile casualty of the recession has been the construction industry, with some prominent organisations suffering badly throughout 2008/09. However, recent reports from this sector indicate that we could be seeing some signs of recovery. April’s figures from the Purchasing Managers Index3 for construction showed the strongest rate in growth since September 2007, offering some hope in a still fragile economy.

Where there is an increase in construction, there usually follows demand for experienced health and safety specialists in this area, with potential opportunities for health and safety management, site specialists, plant safety and CDM coordinators.

This upturn is also reflected in the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ Construction Market Survey,4 which found that in the first quarter of this year more chartered surveyors saw a rise in work from the construction industry. This is further supported by housebuilders Persimmon and Bovis Homes, which both reported a return to profit at the end of the first quarter of 2010. Encouragingly, Bovis reported that the number of people reserving new homes last year increased to 1801, up 82 per cent on the previous year’s figure.5

In particular, there are positive noises being made with reference to sustainable building projects. Indeed, in his presentation at the EcoBuild exhibition in March this year, Mike Peasland, group managing director at Balfour Beatty, suggested that “the recovery, when it comes, will definitely be greener”. 

This is a view supported by the Government’s commitment to bring in zero-carbon standards for new homes by 2016, and the potential for the same standards to be applied to offices, shops, hotels and warehouses by 2019. The Government predicts 65,000 more jobs could be created through its green strategy for housing, and the UK Green Building Council is even more ambitious, estimating that the number of jobs to be created as a result of the strategy could be “at least 100,000”.6 The Government has also announced the start of the UK’s largest green-home building programme, with £60 million of funding earmarked for the country’s first four eco towns. It will help fund around 600 new eco homes over the next two years and support up to 2000 new jobs and apprenticeships.

FM in favour

Another important sector, which has remained robust throughout the recession, is facilities management. Indeed, the ‘FM Industry Employment Market Report’,7 published in March this year, suggests: “In 2009, the majority of FM service-providers has seen an average increase in revenues of 10.8 per cent.”

The report gives examples of key industry players, such as Serco, reporting a 27.8 per cent rise in turnover for the period 2008/09, and Sodexo, citing a rise of 23.8 per cent during the same period. The report also suggests that “it is not just the major players that are enjoying the growth. Many smaller organisations are seeing growth rates of circa 40-50 per cent per annum.”

Growing companies in the FM sector are likely to be looking for health and safety professionals, particularly those with skills and experience of building management, mechanical and electrical, engineering, compliance, and fire safety. It could be an area of further growth for SHE professionals in the UK, and can offer a wide variety of disciplines for career development.

Renewed hope

The skills acquired by the health and safety professional within the traditional building and facilities-management industries are also being sought within the ‘new technologies’ sector, such as renewable energy, particularly in relation to wind, wave and tidal disciplines.

At the British Wind and Energy Association’s (BWEA) health and safety conference in January this year, a number of speakers highlighted the potential for transferable skills from oil and gas, marine and engineering backgrounds to enter the renewables industry. In terms of health and safety experience, this can range across infrastructure, logistics, civils, installation, commissioning and production. 

With the go-ahead for future offshore developments and the construction of the huge Greater Gabbard wind farm off the coast of Sussex – apparently, the largest offshore wind farm of its kind in the world – the UK renewables industry is set to grow, bringing new and interesting challenges for the health and safety professional. 

This is reflected in the BWEA seeking to survey the whole industry in the first of an annual initiative to compile reliable and objective safety data, provide valuable industry benchmarking, and demonstrate trends in performance, in an attempt to dispel myths and increase the credibility and reputation of the industry as a whole.

Middle-Eastern promise

It is not just in the UK where developments are in motion. Overseas companies are also showing increased awareness of sustainable infrastructure and engineering developments, coupled with a requirement for health and safety controls within these projects. Various Middle-East infrastructure projects, for instance, are currently in the pipeline, and, as the region undergoes a transformation to connect its growing cities, the rail industry, in particular, is set to grow and develop.8 

Indeed, Dubai Metro’s Red Line, which opened in September 2009, is the first railway line built in the peninsula for more than 20 years and the region’s first urban railway project. The Red Line demonstrates that countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are ready and willing to invest in railways.

Across the region, work is going ahead on some of the world’s most ambitious transportation schemes. They include Saudi Arabia’s North-South mineral railway and the Saudi Landbridge; the Haramain railway line, which will link Makkah, Medina and Jeddah; rail and light-rail projects in Qatar; the Union Railway in the UAE; and Abu Dhabi’s Metro.

Arguably, the most exciting project is the plan to build a railway line to link Kuwait with Oman to create a long-distance cargo railway, as this has the potential to change the whole structure of the Middle East transport and logistics industry.

In total, the countries of the GCC now probably constitute the largest single opportunity for all those involved with the building and operating of railways, so if you are a health and safety expert within the rail field, there are opportunities on the horizon.

Although the Middle East, India and China are developing their own sustainability skills within their regions, there is still a demand for importing technical expertise from across the international community. Undoubtedly, this market promises to be a growing one for recruitment opportunities.

Upturn down under

Having avoided the worst of the recession, the Australian economy could also offer significant opportunities to safety practitioners. A possible reason for the country’s robustness could be demand for resources from China, and the resulting impact it can have on industries such as mining. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics: “Exports surged by the most in almost three decades in April, as shipments of iron ore and coal to China pushed the trade balance to a surplus for the first time in 12 months.”9

Expertise in the mining and engineering fields is currently crucial for the Australian market, hence the opportunities for work here are strong.


As the world recovers from the global recession, albeit slowly and delicately, the health and safety jobs market is gradually becoming more buoyant, and opportunities for contractors, consultants and in-house professionals, both in the UK and further afield, are positive.

As new technologies and global industry develops the opportunities become more diverse and interesting, and individuals with transferable skills from traditional industries, such as construction and engineering, might like to look at new technologies in the renewables and wider sustainability sectors.

A survey published this year by the Confederation of British Industry10 found that more than a quarter of all UK companies say they plan to take on more staff over the next 12 months, helping unemployment fall below the current rate of 8 per cent. The survey found that 28 per cent of firms are hoping to boost head count, with 49 per cent set to raise wages to around the level of retail price inflation. Let’s hope they are right.

3     The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (2010): ‘UK PMI for construction rises for third month’, CIPS press release, 2 June 2010 –
4     Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (2010): RICS Construction Market Survey –

5     Financial Times (2010): ‘Persimmon targets production line houses’, 17 March 2010 –
6     Greenwise (2010): ‘Green strategy for homes set to create 65,000 jobs’, 2 March 2010 –
7 (2010): ‘FRL Recruitment. FM Industry Employment Market Report’ –    
8     See for more information on projects in this region
9     Bloomberg (2010): ‘Australian Exports Surge Most in Three Decades on China Demand’, 2 June 2010 –
10     Confederation of British Industry (2010): Ready to grow: business priorities for education and skills. Education and skills survey 2010 –

Gemma Dickinson is a senior consultant for Allen & York Recruitment.

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13 years ago

As a health & safety consultancy and training provider, we have noticed a change during the recession but business has remained positive.

Companies will generally wait for the next contract to come in before committing to a significant training/consultancy spend. It means we have a constantly market to potential clients to make sure we catch them at the right time. As a result, many of our courses have continued to be fully booked.
Rob Phillips
Marketing Manager
The Building Safety Group