Survey by ECIC reveals pressure on contractors to fill skills shortage gap and heavy reliance on subcontractors.

A survey of over 350 contractors, conducted by ECIC, has revealed that there is high pressure for the sector to meet demands with the current skills shortage continuing. According to the survey, 78% of contractors admitted they were impacted by the skills shortage, with 56% planning to increase the use of subcontractors to fill the gap.

However, initiatives to tackle to skills shortage with apprenticeships are proving successful, with almost a third of the contractors surveyed intending to take on more apprentices next year, encouraging young people to join the sector.

In its survey, ECIC found that:

  • 30% of contractors said their business has been quite seriously impacted by skills shortages. 44% have been marginally impacted in some way and 4% severely impacted
  • 25% of respondents are going to use more labour only sub-contractors in the next year, and 31% will use more bona fide sub-contractors
  • 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 at ECIC, 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 ECA, which showed that labour costs had increased for 5 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.”

Genuine contractors will be responsible for health and safety procedures at 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 / 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.

Contractors should treat apprentices as an employee, with the responsibility to ensure that the correct procedures are in place, taking into consideration the apprentices need for extra supervision, knowledge, and ability.

Richard Forrest Smith concludes: “It’s vital main contractors create an embedded approach to health and safety amongst 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 is welcome news. Our parent, the ECA, has campaigned for quality engineering and technical apprenticeships and is working with partners within TESP – 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.”