More than three quarters of contractors impacted by skills shortages
A survey of more than 350 contractors by ECIC, the specialist insurer for the contracting sector, has underlined the immense pressure the sector is under to fill skills shortages and the increasing reliance on sub-contractors to fill the gap.
However, industry initiatives to tackle the skills shortage and encourage young people to join the sector appear to be working, with almost a third of the contractors surveyed intending to take on more apprentices in the next year.
In all, 30% of contractors said their business had been quite seriously impacted by skills shortages; 44% said they had been marginally impacted in some way, and 4% had been severely impacted.
A quarter of respondents are going to use more labour-only sub-contractors during the next year, and 31% will use more bona fide sub-contractors. Also, 32% of the contractors surveyed plan to take on more apprentices in the next year.
Richard Forrest Smith, CEO of ECIC, said: “It’s no secret that the contracting sector, including the UK’s engineering services sector which is our key focus, is facing a serious skills shortage which is increasing dependence on subcontractors. This is underlined in the findings of a recent survey by ECIC’s parent, the Electrical Contractors’ Association, which showed that labour costs had increased for five in 10 engineering services contractors.
“Greater use of subcontractors can make the task of managing health and safety on site much more complex, so it is important main contractors understand their responsibilities not just to subcontractors but to the apprentices they employ too.
“Bona fide contractors will be responsible for managing their own health and safety and have their own systems of work. In contrast, labour-only subcontractors should be treated, from a duty of care perspective, like a directly employed member of staff. However, as main contractors tend to remain contractually liable to the CDM co-ordinator or site owner for works undertaken by the sub-contractors they employ, ECIC advises that they should always satisfy themselves of the adequacy of their bona fide sub-contractors’ health and safety documentation.
“Where apprentices are concerned, they should be treated by the contractor as an employee and the contractor would have a responsibility to ensure procedures are in place including adequate supervision taking into consideration the experience, knowledge and ability of the apprentice.
“It’s vital that main contractors create an embedded approach to health and safety among the entire workforce, from apprentices through to highly skilled subcontractors. The alternative is greater risk of accidents on site, leading potentially to liability claims, prosecutions, heavy fines and even possibly a jail sentence.
“On a more positive note, the plans to take on more apprentices come as welcome news. The ECA has campaigned for quality engineering and technical apprenticeships, and is working with partners within The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership on a career progression project intended to upskill existing workers within the industry. Our findings suggest these efforts are starting to reap rewards.”