Career focus: Feelgood factor sets off high growth rate

The South West is one of the most rural regions in the UK, and – thanks to outstanding natural beauty, a temperate climate and an amazing coastline – it is also one of the nation’s favourite and most aspirational areas to live in.

The region is usually defined as comprising Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, and it covers a large and varied geographical area.

According to the South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), the local economy is growing at a faster rate than the UK average, and long-term employment growth is also outstripping the levels for the rest of the country.

The region has a population of about five million people. Although it relies heavily on tourism and agriculture, other significant emerging sectors include environmental technology, biotechnology, and the creative industry.

The South West has a strong association with small businesses, as the vast majority of the region’s 210,000 companies employ fewer than 10 staff. Despite this, the South West is home to several large employers of international significance, such as Axa, Orange, RAC, Somerfield, Honda, Intel, BP, Wrigley’s and Dyson.

Official labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate a slight improvement in employment levels after recent falls, although the figures are not significantly different from a year ago.

About 2.46 million people are currently in employment (more than 78%), which represents a drop of 0.7% over the past 12 months. Unemployment has grown to 3.5%, an increase of 0.6% since April 2004.

Tom Mornement runs Bristol-based recruitment agency Purple House, which deals solely with placements in HR. He believes there have been some significant changes in the past 12 months.

“We’re seeing more employers going down the ‘business partner’ route when appointing HR professionals,” he says. “This seems to be the case for large and small organisations, and it’s commercial experience they are really looking for.

“At the same time, lots of candidates are coming to us looking for more commercial roles. HR staff want to be closer to the business,” he explains.

Mornement says the trend for organisations relocating to the South West from other parts of the country – particularly London – has continued, although it is balanced by the increase in the number of large companies outsourcing non-core services.

He says interim HR practitioners are also in great demand in the region, with more organisations looking to make use of contract and project-based HR staff for more senior roles.

However, figures from the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey rate companies in the South West as the least optimistic recruiters in the whole country this quarter. Employers in the region only have a hiring intention of +3, compared with the national average of +15.

This represents a drop of 16 points from the previous quarter, and a fall of 24 points since the same period in 2004. However, only 6% of companies plan to reduce staffing levels, while 9% hope to take on new workers, and 85% plan to maintain current levels.

Living in the region


The region boasts one of the most educated workforces in the UK, with 27% educated to degree level. GCSE results are the second best in the country, with 54% of pupils gaining five or more A to C grades. There are 13 higher education establishments, attended by more than 130,000 students.


The property market in the South West is still buoyant, with figures from the Land Registry showing that prices have grown during the past 12 months. The overall average price for a home in the region has risen from 179,412 in 2004 to 196,819 this year. Prices have increased right across the board, with the average cost of 145,168 for a flat, 180,350 for a semi-detached house and 292,479 for a detached property.


The South West has a road network of more than 48,000km, although most of it is somewhat isolated from the UK public transport system. The M4 and M5 motorways are the busiest and most significant roads, and the area is dotted with major ports, such as Plymouth and Poole. Generally, the area has good rail links. Bristol has a large airport, and there are regular flights from Newquay.


According to the regional development agency, the South West has a working population that is growing at double the national average, and is one of the most popular relocation areas. It is famous for its coastline, countryside and abundant wildlife.

There is also a vibrant cultural and sporting scene, and Glastonbury music festival is an annual highlight.

Company view

  • Lucy Bristow
  • Appointments
  • Staff: 15
  • Based: Bristol

Gemma Hawkes has worked as a specialist HR recruiter in Bristol for the past three years, following a spell in a national sales role. She says the area has benefited from significant investment over the past few years, which has helped attract some major employers.

“More and more, I am seeing Bristol attracting candidates who want the excitement of a city lifestyle away from London,” she says. “I believe this is a positive indication that Bristol businesses will grow stronger and more dominant in the UK marketplace.

“Bristol has been completely transformed into a diverse and cosmopolitan city that attracts some of the UK’s most forward-thinking organisations and promising talent,” Hawkes adds.

However, the HR job market in the region is very competitive, and Hawkes claims there is such a strong talent pool that it could lead to a surplus of talented candidates in the future. She also warns that some larger companies are centralising HR functions.

Hawkes says the region is a great place to live and work, presenting HR professionals with some excellent opportunities.

Move here for…

The weather – milder, drier and generally better than most other regions.

Traffic – despite the tourist trade, the region’s roads have the lightest volume of traffic in the UK.

Excitement – the new Lonely Planet travel guide describes Bristol as “buzzing”, while Newquay is hailed as a major party town.

But beware of… 

Hype – The Lonely Planet guide wasn’t quite as kind about Devon and Torquay. The term English Riviera was dismissed as “optimistic”.

Finance roles – A Robert Half International survey shows almost half of finance professionals in the region are looking for a new job.
The competition – Recruiters believe the market for HR roles is getting tight.

HR contacts and local information

CIPD Wessex branch:
CIPD Devon branch:
CIPD West of England branch:
CIPD Gloucester branch:
Business and tourism information:
Regional development agency:
Regional assembly:

Comments are closed.