The West Midlands: under the microscope

Joel Sawyer, who has recently been promoted to director in our Birmingham office, takes a look at the West Midlands’ market over the last 12 months.

I have been at BSD for more than a decade and have seen a lot of change during this time – particularly in recent years, with recessions and market uncertainty, a Brexit vote and national infrastructure projects changing the face of the country, it’s certainly been an interesting time for the industry and business in the West Midlands.

The Brexit vote last year didn’t affect the quantity of fee proposal requests as some may have expected. There was, however, a clear reluctance to confirm project start dates until a more clear understanding of what the vote would mean – although we’re still in, what many would consider as, a state of flux, confidence has returned and we’re now seeing schemes make progress in terms of commitment to projects.

Works streams have picked up and continue to grow as the levels of enquiries have returned to normal – if not higher – levels experienced prior to the referendum.

Obviously the country’s financial fluctuations have presented difficulties in the construction industry and unfortunately the training of young people has paid the price. The aftermath of the recession in 2008 is still being felt; there is still insufficient funding to train young engineers to a level where the skills gap can begin to close.

Here, we have managed to retain a vast number of our staff and put particular emphasis on education and training to ensure that we upskill within the business.

It’s important to encourage the next generation of young engineers, particularly as the industry is severely lacking in women in engineering roles. It’s always been a male dominated industry but this trend does seem to be changing for the better.

We employ 15 staff in Birmingham, 35 per cent of whom are female, and our hope is this will only increase. We have women in top positions across our offices, which is something we’re particularly proud of.

Birmingham and the West Midlands have thriving business communities and there are now a number of organisations who actively promote building services as a career option and try to encourage and provide support for women looking to get into the industry. Through forming local links, we’re seeing a huge change and I hope more women will take up the fantastic opportunities available in the industry.

In terms of local trends in Birmingham, we’ve seen a lot of activity in private residential, care villages, educational and student accommodation work. This is all in line with the government’s plans to deliver one million new homes nationwide by 2020.

National infrastructure is also high on the government’s agenda and HS2 has dominated the headlines for quite some time. It’s certainly an exciting time for Birmingham in terms of transport opportunities in the construction sector.

I have no doubt the development of the HS2 link will bring lots of opportunities to the Birmingham area and, with closer links to the capital, there’s a huge opportunity for residential expansion with commuters being encouraged to move into the region.

It may also provide businesses with the opportunity to move outside of the capital with improved journey times making the West Midlands a more attractive investment opportunity.

We’re delighted to be such a large part of a thriving industry in Birmingham – and hope to be for many more years!