Career focus: South West

A region by region look at working in HR in the UK.  This month we investigate Northern Ireland.  Edited by Ross Wigham, e-mail:

South West riding on a wave of confidence

The South West offers a range of opportunities for employers and HR professionals.

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

It has a total population of more than 4.9 million people and a workforce of 2.4 million.

The latest official figures show the area has a tight labour market with few changes occurring during the past 12 months. The seasonally-adjusted employment rate is 78.7 per cent, up by 0.2 per cent on last year, while unemployment stands at 3.3 per cent – a fall of 0.5 per cent. This equates to 2.43 million in employment, with around 83,000 out of work.

Bristol is the largest city in the South West, and the ninth largest urban area in England, with a population of more than half a million. Bournemouth is the second biggest urban area, with a population of 383,713.

According to the 2001 census, there are a further 10 areas with more than 50,000 people and 280 urban areas with more than 1,500 people.

The area is home to several major employers, including communications companies AOL Time Warner and Siemens, oil services business Halliburton. One of the most important areas is Swindon, which has attracted huge investment from well-known companies including Honda and Ericsson.

Tom Mornement runs Bristol-based recruitment agency Purple House, which deals with HR placements, and believes the region has a lot to offer.

“For qualified practitioners, there are some great vacancies,” he says. “It’s been a much better time over the past six months in terms of the number and quality of available vacancies.  

“There’s a whole range of employers based in the area with a particularly thriving financial services sector,” he says. “There’s a big aerospace economy and many other large employers are based here.

“Historically, people have seen the South West as a retirement area, but that’s not really the case any more because there are some huge employers here,” he explains.

According to Mornement, many people are looking to move to the area or return after time away, and those looking to improve their careers in HR won’t be disappointed.

“There’s a pretty even split of applicants from within the region, those hoping to return to the South West and people from elsewhere. The business partner role seems to be growing in popularity, and we’ve been placing a lot of HR people into this type of role,” he adds.

The HSBC Regional Focus Report states that the South West’s varied mix of industries shielded it from the effects of the recent global economic slowdown.

However, it also warns that the extreme differences between the east and west of the area must be addressed, and more houses must be built to accommodate growth.

Figures from recruitment agency Manpower show that the region’s employers are the second most confident in the UK.

Living in the region


The workforce in the South West has levels of education above the national average in terms of academic qualifications from higher education. The South West Regional Development Agency has set up skills and learning teams for each sub-region to address the specific labour market development needs.


The South West has airports at Bristol, Exeter, Bournemouth, Plymouth and Newquay, with flights to domestic and European destinations. The road network comprises the M4 which runs East to West, and the M5 which runs North to South. London and the Channel Tunnel can also be reached by road. The railways connect with London and the Continent. There are many commercial ports, most notably Bristol.


More than one-third of the region has National Park status, or is listed as an area of outstanding natural beauty with a diverse range of wildlife. The South West is one of the leading areas in Europe for water sports, with the World Surfing Championships held in Newquay, Cornwall. Music lovers flock to Glastonbury, while theatre-goers have the Bristol Old Vic.


According to figures from the Land Registry, the overall average price of a house in the South West is £179,030. A detached property in the region will cost you £266,052, while a semi-detached will set you back by around £160,563. Terraced houses are currently said to be worth £139,307 and you could expect to pay £133,294 for a flat or maisonette.

HR contacts and local information

Various CIPD branches

Business and tourism information

The South West Regional Development Agency

Company profile

Southgate Hotel

Staff: 120

Based: Exeter

Jan Golding is a regional HR manager at Macdonald Hotels with responsibility for 1,100 staff across the whole region. She moved back to Exeter after seven years away and says the quality of life was a key factor.

“Living down here is fantastic,” she says. “I live in Exeter city centre, which has a great quayside full of bars, cafes and vibrant living. There’s a beautiful cathedral and a good range of boutiques and independent shops.”

This is complemented by beautiful countryside and coastline, but Golding says the HR scene is equally as vibrant.

“The service sector and the public sector dominate employment opportunities, with the county council by far the largest employer in Devon. Hospitality and tourism are huge for us and we have the usual problems associated with these industries, such as attracting and retaining good staff.

“There are some excellent academic institutions, and Exeter University is a large employer renowned for its work-life balance,” Golding says.

“Senior HR jobs outside of the public sector are rare, but other areas to look would be Swindon, Bristol, Plymouth, Taunton and Yeovil. There are few head offices, so the large companies tend to cover the South West by having a regional HR manager based here.

“Most of the jobs advertised are for HR administrators or officers. However, the advancement opportunities are significantly less than they are in other, bigger cities,” she says.

Move here for…

– The weather: milder, drier and better all round than most other regions

– 621 miles of coast: some of the finest beaches and water sports in the UK

– Low crime: the South West has the country’s third-lowest crime rate

But beware of…

– The retired masses: parts of the region have an elderly population

– Being too remote: some areas are very isolated

– Housing shortages: a large mismatch between population and housing is forecast

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