While contractor staff salaries are static and salary increases have reached record-low levels, recruiters say hiring is improving modestly. Heavy industrial, highway and heavy civil construction are showing positive signs, with compensation requests from wind and solar, says Jeff Robinson, president of construction-compensation consultant Personnel Administration Services Inc., Saline, Mich.

In the depressed residential housing sector, 35% of firms predict freezing pay in 2011, compared to only 12% in industrial construction, Robinson says. Overall, about a quarter of contractors surveyed are planning pay freezes, he says.

Construction staff salaries are predicted to rise 2.8% on average this year, compared to actual salary increases of 2.7% in 2010, according to a recent PAS survey. In 2009, salary increases averaged 3%. The survey is based on 22,242 middle managers in 58 operational positions at 255 construction companies.

In 2010, 63% of firms gave pay increases, the lowest level since 1983, Robinson says. This year, 75% of companies are projecting an increase in salaries.

Also this year, pay increases fell below the consumer price index of 3.2% for the first time since 1983, the year PAS began publishing its staff salary surveys, Robinson says. “If the cost of living continues to be above 3%, I expect pay increases will rise to at least meet that number.”

Last year, New England had the highest salary increases at 2.9%, down from 3.2% in 2009. Now, the Great Lakes states have the lowest projected increases at 2.7% for 2011, while the Gulf Coast and Mountain states are seeing slightly higher increases, Robinson says.

The mid-Atlantic is reasonably strong, along with some areas of Texas, such as Houston, says Mark Jones, national sales manager at Kimmel & Associates, an Asheville, N.C., executive recruiter. “Some areas, such as Las Vegas and Chicago, are so slow that they can only go up,” he says. Florida and Midwestern states also are beginning to pick up.

Recruiters say technological savvy is attractive today. BIM and CAD people are strong candidates, and there is a spike in interest in site-based MEP coordinators, Jones says. Knowledge of energy efficiency, energy management and LEED design are in high demand, especially in government-owned facilities, he says.

Commissioning is on the rise, requiring engineers who can assure buildings run efficiently, says Jim Lord, managing director at Helbling & Associates, Wexford, Pa. In the high-tech sector, companies are seeking operational efficiencies for building equipment and systems that may have drifted out of spec, he says.

Other jobs in demand include service managers, facilities managers for maintenance contracts and those who can help run a facility cleaner, better and more efficiently. “If companies are not building new facilities, then they are upgrading existing ones,” Jones says.