Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Engineering contractors benefitting from desire for specialist skills

By Matthew Brown, managing director, giant group

Our latest analysis of our database found interesting, and optimistic, results for engineering contractors. According to the findings just 4% of contractors in this field expect their earnings to drop over the next 12 months. But what are the reasons behind this positive sentiment?

While skills shortages have certainly played some part, the issue hasn’t been aided by the fact that the UK is currently undergoing something of an engineering renaissance with a number of major schemes being commissioned, all requiring specialist skill sets.  In addition to Crossrail and the development of Google’s new London offices, projects such as the £294m Borders Railway and the creation of the Queensferry Crossing are stretching resources even further.  There’s also a plethora of slightly smaller scale projects that require expertise including the extension of the M6 (a plan that has been in the offing since 1948) as well as the development of Brighton Marina. These schemes, as well as the many others currently underway across the UK, are just one reason why engineering specialists have been able to pick between jobs and claim rates that are considerably above the market average.

Our analysis also found that engineering contractors are staying in roles for longer than they have done in the past. While this could be a result of the longer term nature of projects being undertaken, it also suggests that professionals are focusing on skills development, rather than the potential to earn more money. The contracting arena as a whole has faced unfair criticism in recent years with some commentators suggesting individuals flit between roles in order to earn improved levels of pay and these results highlight, once again, that this stereotype is wholly incorrect.

However, while sentiment in the contracting arena is high as a result of the ongoing demand for niche skills, it’s likely that contractors will be relied on - not just to provide specialist expertise - but also to plug gaps in the workforce where shortages have hit hardest. Even if there is a monumental shift towards improving the numbers of students undertaking STEM subjects at school and higher education, the UK is now deep in a development frenzy and so contractors should be set to benefit for the foreseeable future. But with only a finite amount of expertise to go around, projects could potentially be threatened if they continue to be commissioned at such a fast rate. A number of industries are already heavily reliant on the niche skills of contractors and overseas workers and more has to be done to get an increased number of experts operating in the field in the future.

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