As at November last year, there were 64 cranes on Auckland's skyline, more than in any of the 11 American cities tracked by the RLB Crane Index, as well as major infrastructure projects such as the City Rail Link and Western Ring Route surging ahead. And it's not just Auckland: reconstruction of the road and rail links following the Kaikoura earthquakes is forecast to generate up to $2 billion worth of work, and the economic boom is raising demand in other centres as well.

While someone has to drive those diggers and wield those spades, the boom in construction is also causing an increase in demand for professionals in this sphere, from architects, engineers and quantity surveyors to project and construction managers.

Guy Davidson, director of Cobalt Recruitment, which specialises in the built environment and infrastructure sectors, says while experienced local and overseas candidates are in high demand now, the expected growth in the sector means the industry needs many more people to train, to move into these roles in the future.

"You need look no further than the investment that's being made by tertiary institutions that offer engineering, architecture and construction management courses. They're increasing the capacity for the number of graduates that they can produce, following a call to arms from the industry," Davidson says.

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The University of Auckland, for example, has invested more than $280 million in a new engineering faculty building, to open in 2019, and is expected to enrol 1000 first-year students annually - up from 650 in 2010.

"Here in Auckland, from around 2014 we started to see the market really accelerate. That acceleration has been exponential over 2015-16, and we expect to see it continue to grow rapidly this year," says Davidson.

"The demand is for professional construction-related skills, such as quantity surveying, project management, site management and construction management. In the engineering sphere, it's civil, structural, geotechnical but also building services engineers who design and install the mechanical, electrical and public-health systems in buildings.

"There's also considerable demand for the professional skills related to strategy and planning of development, such as planners who interpret the Resource Management Act, among other things."

Guy Davidson says there is no evidence of a gender pay gap in the skilled areas Cobalt recruits for. Photo / Getty Images
Guy Davidson says there is no evidence of a gender pay gap in the skilled areas Cobalt recruits for. Photo / Getty Images

Architecture is another major growth area, with surging demand for registered and non-registered architects, and technicians.

"While draughting is not a university-degree-qualified job, it's absolutely essential to the delivery of successful projects," says Davidson. "Demand covers the entire ecosystem of professional skills that power the built environment and infrastructure construction sectors."

Buoyancy in the construction market is not just affecting the main centres. Davidson says professionals are in demand in the Queenstown Lakes district, Hamilton and Tauranga, Wellington and also smaller centres like Rotorua. That means qualified staff are increasingly receiving close to Auckland-level wages while enjoying the lower living costs and lifestyle benefits of being based in the regions.

Davidson says demand is high right from graduate level, meaning those coming out of training can expect not only to secure a good job, but also a competitive salary. Davidson says professional skills graduates who once could expect a starting salary of up to $45,000 are more likely to be offered up to $55,000, and in some cases $60,000, "straight out of university".

And long-term job prospects are good, too. "There are just more opportunities, and your ability to fast-track and develop your career relative to what you could achieve during slower economic times is significant."

And it's not just jobs for the boys; increasing numbers of women are being attracted to the sector, and Davidson sees no evidence of a gender pay gap in the skilled areas Cobalt recruits for. Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce reported in November that the number of female graduates completing civil engineering qualifications increased 82 per cent from 2008 to 2015, with females now represent 19 per cent of civil engineering graduates.

"Another benefit is the ability for employees to try different things, and having a great professional choice about where they could take their career. It might be a certain type of project or a new skill direction."

Engineering and architecture professionals especially are being courted to move into project and construction management roles.

Expanding the talent pool in these professions is not a quick fix - engineering is a four-year degree, architecture three years plus another two to gain registration, for example - but Davidson believes strong demand will continue. Regardless of what happens with the residential housing market, He says major infrastructure and commercial building projects in the pipeline or already underway will continue to drive demand for professional skills in coming years.

"In Auckland, there is the City Rail Link and Puhoi-Wellsford motorway, the International Convention Centre, Commercial Bay and the Westfield Newmarket re-development, then there's ongoing earthquake reconstruction in Christchurch and the upper South and lower North Islands, along with myriad projects across the country," Davidson says. "There's a lot of life left in this boom."