Friday, 2 October 2015

Investment in transport paying off as more engineers turn to contracting

by Matthew Brown, Managing Director of giant group
During the global recession investment in UK transport infrastructure was reduced significantly. However, in the period since, the Government and private firms have splashed the cash and have invested heavily in projects that will allow the UK to continue to grow and operate smoothly. But which schemes are driving demand and what does this mean for engineering specialists?

The £15bn road investment strategy is one considerable factor behind much of the demand. This project has required a huge amount of resources and manpower in an attempt to upgrade the UK’s existing road network which has been pushed to capacity in recent years. The programme was announced in Parliament in December 2014 and includes investment in over 100 new road schemes. Over 1,300 new lane miles are in development, with £1.5 billion pounds solely dedicated to turn existing highways into ‘smart motorways that will boost connectivity between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire. As you may have expected, these projects don’t complete themselves and have required a range of contractor skills in order to get under way.  The project has been labelled as “the biggest upgrade to UK roads in a generation” and has come at the right time. Reports have suggested that new car sales rose for the 42nd straight month in August with more vehicles on UK roads than any time in history.

It’s not just road projects that have boosted demand either; there are also a number of huge programmes underway to bolster rail networks. Anyone working or based in the capital would be hard pressed not to have seen some evidence of the Crossrail programme that is nearing completion and aims to improve links between Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, London and Essex.  In addition, there is also the proposed High Speed 2 rail link which will improve connectivity between the capital and the north of England. Current estimates put the construction cost of this programme at approximately £42bn with huge numbers of engineering specialists likely to be in considerable demand. However, while these two are probably the best known of all the proposed programmes, there are currently 38 in total underway across the UK. And, as has been well documented, not many of these experts with the requisite niche skills currently operate in the permanent market, which means demand for contractors is being raised.

Interestingly, it appears that this shortage of engineering professionals isn’t going to be solved by offering permanent positions to contractors, as our analysis also found that the number of specialists that would turn down a permanent vacancy has risen for the third year in a row. This not only reflects the wider trend of people wanting greater control over their work/life balance, but also that professionals can earn considerably more by working on a contract basis as a result of the demand for their niche skill sets. With more people recognising the value of working in this way and businesses increasingly appreciating the value of the contract workforce it’s highly likely that this trend is only going to grow in the coming years.

What other factors do you think have driven roles for contractors?

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