Permanent Vs Freelance Employment and The Skills Gap in 2017

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2017: Employment Demand and the Skills Gap in Construction

Alan Shave

Firstly, the bad news…

The latest monthly survey released by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) suggests that the gap between employment demand in Scotland & the rest of the UK is widening.  Responses from recruiters across the country showed that the number of people starting permanent jobs continued to deteriorate in January, coming off the back of December 2016, where placements fell at their fastest rate for over 7 years.  That is markedly in contrast with the rest of the UK, where recruiters have seen a notable increase.

December is always a tricky period when it comes to the recruitment of salaried employees, with generally less working days thanks to the Christmas holidays (apologies for using that word in February…), but it’ll concern many that things didn’t noticeably improve in January, a month which is typically one of the busiest as employers have delayed new starts until the start of the year and look to recruit the right talent for the year ahead.

Admittedly these figures cover the whole economy as opposed to solely construction/engineering, but there is some strong evidence to suggest that Scotland continues to struggle with continued uncertainty in the political landscape, as businesses, in general, hesitate around investment decisions. Some may argue that the key factor in Scotland is the ongoing question of Scottish independence rather than Brexit, given the UK as a whole is dealing with the concept of leaving the EU, but the one thing for sure is that business needs sure ground to breed confidence.

Time for some good news?

Well, for a start the REC figures don’t match what we’ve seen at Contract Scotland. In fact, January saw over 200% more people starting permanent jobs than in December, so perhaps we significantly bucked the trend or the construction/engineering industry as a whole outperformed other sectors.

In addition, the market for freelance staff in Scotland continues to show growth and demand actually accelerated to a 13 month high.

Whilst the latest Construction Industry Training Board report, released on Wednesday, forecasts a drop in construction activity over the coming 5 years and subsequently a marginal drop in employment, this is mostly as a result of major infrastructure projects coming to a close (i.e. the Queensferry Crossing and several large road schemes) and other sectors will help fill the gap.  It can’t come as a surprise to all of us in Scotland that this will happen, particularly when you consider that infrastructure works have made up almost 1/3 of our construction projects in recent years (compared to less than 1/6 in the UK as a whole).  Any drop in one sector should be seen as an opportunity for others, particularly when it comes to available staff.

Regardless of this forecasted drop and any transfer of skills, the CITB are still suggesting that as an industry we’ll need to find over 12,000 new workers to fill the gap in the next 5 years thanks to retirement & other factors.  The key word in that phrase is ‘new’ and we all have a part to play in filling that gap.  No doubt the solution is complex and you’ve probably seen our passionate views on the subject, including the creation of our own social enterprise ‘Constructing Futures’, but that number won’t decrease unless everyone works together to change the opinion and perception of construction.

I know we can often be a pessimistic bunch within construction (!), but let’s not lose sight of all the positive aspects of our industry. There are still plenty of opportunities out there, we just might need to search a little harder…

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