Solid future foundations

The economic recession has seen property prices fall, land values plummet and some construction projects come to a halt as investors exercised caution and looked to save costs and reduce investment risks. But recent  developments are signalling an end to this downward spiral and experts believe there are the first signs of some stability coming back to the economy.

Professor David Proverbs is Head of the Construction and Infrastructure Department at the University’s School of Engineering and the Built Environment (SEBE).

He believes that the construction industry has excellent opportunities in the pipeline for those who are forward-thinking.

“As far as house prices are concerned there’s been a slight increase nationwide and more activity in the housing market; we may be seeing the first signs that the worst is no behind us and the economy can begin to recover,” he says.

“We have to be realistic about recovery and the appropriate processes of demand and financial resources need to be in place.

“This recession is far different from those endured in previous eras in that problems have stemmed from a global financial crisis. In the past companies have looked to internationalise their operations in order to survive such difficult trading conditions – however this recession has forced companies to look for new strategies in order to survive. These challenging times have sadly seen some long established businesses fall into bankruptcy.

”Nevertheless, there are some encouraging signs. I am aware of some mothballed projects that are now being completed and there seem to be some signs that confidence is returning.”

The University has courses at all levels which benefit those looking to forge a career in the industry and Professor Proverbs believes it is the ideal time for potential students to consider signing up.

“It’s still an excellent career move. This time 12 months ago the industry was saying it had a major skills shortage. Although we have been going through a difficult economic period I suspect within two years there will be increased demand for people with appropriate skills, which will be timely for our graduates.”

A new degree course in real estate management, which looks at managing and valuing residential and commercial property, and new foundation degrees aimed at developing technical level skills are among the career-focused courses on offer. The Department also offers a new BEng in Civil Engineering. Many courses are accredited by key professional bodies such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Institute for Civil Engineers (ICE).

“There’s a whole spectrum of opportunities,” says Professor Proverbs.

“There is still a huge commitment to investment in developing infrastructure from road networks, to major projects for health and education services.

“Mainstream public sector areas will continue to benefit from development and investment and there is also a commitment to providing new housing across the UK which has to be sustained.”

He believes that being based in the West Midlands provides staff and students with increased opportunities.

“There is a massive regeneration agenda for the region, which we are in a good position to support. This will necessitate expertise in many subjects including design, construction, engineering and refurbishment. We work closely with employers to ensure our courses are meeting their demands.

“We have excellent links with the West Midlands Centre for Constructing Excellence and are actively exploring ways in which the University can support businesses through consultancy and training. Our postgraduate courses are ideal for middle or senior managers who are looking to develop their own careers. Many of our students are sponsored by employers meaning that we provide a significant service to the West Midlands construction industry through courses which are in tune with their needs and informed by latest thinking.

“Our academic staff possess a breadth of industrial experience and knowledge which is extremely important in delivering such vocational and professional courses.”

All the courses offered by the department are informed by research being undertaken by academic staff including fives professors and numerous doctorates and senior researchers. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), a peer review exercise to evaluate research for the higher education sector, ranked the University of Wolverhampton as the leading centre for architecture and built environment research in the West Midlands.

Building on this success, members of Professor Proverbs’ team have just secured a project for RICS examining rural property values. They will be looking at issues of affordability; often people who are born in a rural area who want to stay cannot afford to do so. The team will examine what affects rural home prices and how much of an impact the ‘escape to the country’ ideal has had. This will also link to earlier research carried out regarding flood risks and damages to property, a specialist area for Professor Proverbs, who has presented at international conferences and contributed to a government review on the 2007 summer floods.

“All our staff are research active or participate in employer engagement activities in order to maintain their own currency and keep abreast of developments and to look for future opportunities to grow the curriculum.”

Staff have expertise in a range of areas including construction project management, legal areas of construction in terms of dispute resolution, procurement and contractual matters, sustainable construction, as well as more technical areas such geotechnics and structures. They frequently advise businesses and have excellent links with companies.

Professor Proverbs is quietly optimistic about the future. “The upturn in the housing market is a positive sign and while we have some challenging times ahead, this is still a very good time to consider studying one of our courses.”

For more information see School of Engineering and the Built Environment.