Career focus: South East

The South East is the largest regional economy outside of London, and is home to some of the largest corporations in the UK.

Covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex, the South East has a highly qualified workforce of about 4.3 million people.

The latest official figures show that both employment and unemployment have remained broadly flat with little change over the past two months. Labour Force Survey data from the Office for National Statistics reports the employment rate as 79% for the three months to June 2005.
According to the survey, the unemployment rate is just 3.8%, up by 0.1% on a year earlier.

These figures provide a perfect example of the issues facing HR professionals in the South East, which has the highest employment and lowest unemployment rates in the country.

However, fewer employers in the region are looking to hire staff in the next quarter. In fact, local organisations are reporting the lowest third-quarter hiring intentions for 12 years.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey shows that businesses in the South East have an employment outlook of +7% – a fall of 3% compared to last year and 5% below the national average.

The area is a globally-recognised region and the South East Regional Development Agency (SEEDA) is currently looking at what its future direction should be.

It has embarked on a consultation process looking at the economic strategy for the region. SEEDA is seeking the opinions of all the stakeholders in the area to help to develop a plan to deliver continued success in the global economy.

The agency’s chairman, Jim Brathwaite, says: “SEEDA’s aim is to raise productivity levels across the whole of the South East by encouraging high-value jobs.” It also wants to increase skills to raise the amount each individual contributes to the economy – the gross value added (GVA) – especially in those parts of the region that are lagging behind.

“We know that global competitiveness is a requirement for future prosperity – and sustainability is essential to long-term success – both in society and for the economy as a whole. We must grasp the opportunities and face the challenges if we are to continue to be the driving force of the UK’s economy,” he adds.

There are some rich opportunities for HR professionals because of the workforce challenges of productivity and staff turnover. SEEDA believes that the continual need to improve working standards will drive the demand for even more HR professionals.

Simon Clements, regional head of client partners at HR consultancy Penna, works with many employers in the area and says that one of the biggest challenges is engaging and retaining staff.

“Like everywhere else there’s a big focus on attracting, managing and retaining talent and that is exacerbated because of the tight market and tough competition in the South East. There are skills shortages, particularly in managerial and technical roles and the South East has been quite hard hit by this,” he explains.

Living in the region


The region has 25 further and higher education institutions including the universities of Oxford, Surrey, Southampton, Reading, Sussex and Kent. It also boasts some of the most well-educated employees in the UK with almost 20% at degree level. It has higher levels of adult learning and more 16- to 18-year-olds in full-time education than elsewhere in the UK.


The area is often referred to as a global gateway because of its access to transport, which includes Gatwick and Stansted airports (Heathrow is also nearby), the Channel Tunnel and a number of major sea ports. There are also extensive road networks such as the M25, M3, M4, M40, M2, M27 and M23, although this has to be balanced with the potential for horrendous congestion problems.


Within easy reach of many London hot spots, the South East also has plenty to offer in cities such as Brighton and Southampton. There is a long, pleasant coastline as well as areas of natural and historical significance across the region. The region boasts the gigantic Bluewater shopping centre, as well as a wide range of shops in many of the region’s cities and towns.


The high cost of property in the region is well documented and the current average price of a home is 223,372. Official figures from the Land Registry rate the average cost of a detached house at 363,204. Despite recent falls, prices remain high, with average costs at about 211,632 for a semi-detached house, 175,629 for a terrace and 148,010 for a flat.

HR contacts and local information

South East Development Agency:
South East regional assembly:
CIPD Kent branch:
CIPD Sussex branch:
CIPD Central Southern branch:
CIPD Chiltern branch:
CIPD Thames branch:

Company profile – Esure

Staff: 260
Based: Reigate, Surrey

HR manager Vicky Taylor has worked in London and Hertfordshire, but for the past four-and-a-half years has worked in Surrey for insurance firm Esure. Taylor says working in Reigate is ideal because it offers her the chance to work for a large, modern employer without the drawbacks of a major city.

“I really enjoy working for a large, buzzing employer, but I also have the benefits of being based in beautiful countryside,” she says.

Despite the rural surroundings, there are many HR challenges to keep practitioners busy, and because of the employment market in the South East, all com-panies have to strive for the best people management practices.

This means HR professionals will get to use some of the most modern HR techniques and enjoy demanding, challenging roles.

“This part of Surrey has very low unemployment, so recruitment can be very competitive. To attract and retain the best we have to ensure we are the local employer of choice,” says Taylor.

“The location is also a drawback as Reigate does not have a mainline train station, although it is easily accessible from many major roads and there is a mainline link in nearby Redhill. We have laid on a company minibus and try to provide car parking where possible,” she says.

Move here for…

  • Skills – The area boasts one of the UK’s most talented and qualified workforces.
  • Pay – Remuneration for HR professionals is generally far higher than the national average.
  • Expertise – Three-fifths of the workforce are either managers, professionals or senior officials.

But beware of…

  • Recruiting – The area will provide challenges for even the most seasoned recruiters.
  • Cash – You may receive a higher salary, but the higher living costs will soon drain your pockets
  • The graduate backlash – Currently 70% of graduates choose to work outside the South East.

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