What’s driving the record demand for UK engineering contractors?

by Heat Recruitment

by Steve Auburn

The engineering sector in the UK is in a state of flux. A combination of current political situation in the form of Brexit, consistently tentative productivity levels, and a global skills shortage has resulted in a decidedly uncertain environment. Whilst in many sectors this level of uncertainty would result in diminished job prospects, new research has found that the amount of engineering contractors in the UK has, in fact, increased by over two thirds over the last five years. A significant opportunity for the UK’s engineering talent pool.

The community of engineering contractors has now risen from 32,911 in 2011, to 55,393 in 2016 – a 68.3% increase. Comparably, the quantity of employed workers in engineering has increased by just 0.9% in the same period. So why, then, is engineering able to buck a trend that would leave other industries in ruin?

The rise in the number of engineering contractors in the UK can be attributed to a range of key areas. Firstly, contractors are invariably paid more than their employed counterparts. This does come with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, however. In contrast, contractors rarely enjoy the same quality of staff benefits as their peers.

The second reason is, potentially, the largest positive indication – demand for engineers has increased exponentially with the implementation of mega-projects Crossrail, Hinkley Point C, and, of course, HS2. Combined, these two aspects result in a greater demand for talent, and an increased ability to pay for it.

The vast majority of engineering projects do not suit the current full-time employment model. With HS2, for example, the UK government confirmed that the project would support up to 16,000 jobs from a contract value of around £6.6bn. Whilst, of course, this figure is not strictly limited to those within engineering disciplines, when the project is complete, there is no need for staff to remain. Project managers can employ contractors to do a job, and once that job is done, both parties can leave satisfied. As such, the demand for contractors increases proportionally to the amount of work available.

The rise in the number of contractors within this sector, compared to the relatively slow growth of permanent employees, then, is a symptom of funding. There is, quite simply, far more demand for flexibility in this area, and employers are willing to pay above market rates to secure top talent for their undertaking.

Investment in UK infrastructure, for example, now sits at an all-time high. Indeed, the UK government recently announced a £500bn pipeline of infrastructure investment. This includes the Thames Tideway Tunnel, upgrading the A14, and even the rollout of smart meters.

This trend shows no signs of slowing down. The sheer scale of huge engineering projects in the UK are rising – both in the amount of funding allocated and the amount of staff required to bring the project to fruition. The move, according to a government release, is in part to improve the productivity of the UK as a whole. By raising productivity by just 1% each year, within a decade, the benefit would equal £240bn added to the economy.

The opportunity for engineers, therefore, is significant. The UK has been enduring a lack of productivity in comparison to other G7 nations for years. With such a huge level of investment from the UK government in a relatively short space of time, the requirement for engineering specialists, and by extension, the pay scale for said skilled workers, will increase dramatically.

Heat Recruitment is a key providing of engineering staffing solutions. Whether you are looking to make your next hire or searching for a new career opportunity, get in touch with Steve Auburn or click here to visit our Engineering division.

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