Chatting recently to a tier two contractor that was looking for qualified engineers, we agreed that while we are all aware of the growing problem of skills shortages, we concluded that the true reality of the issue hasn’t really hit home yet.
Of biggest concern should be the interest we have seen recently from skilled individuals looking at opportunities abroad as the last thing the UK needs is an exodus of what skills we have.
To counter, the obvious solution would be to look abroad for talent; surely we could bring in the same skill sets from overseas?
Well, yes that is one option and, as a recruitment consultancy we are continuously making enquiries and on the look-out for quality construction talent, however, with the stunning advent of Brexit, combined with project delays, the UK is becoming a much less attractive career route for skilled foreign individuals.
Having presided over a tier two contractor myself, I know the challenges faced within infrastructure projects, the delays on getting to site, the politics, the bureaucracy and that’s without factoring in the great British weather! On many occasions, projects are delayed, sometimes in excess of 12 months, which puts severe strains on cash flows, and then suddenly you get the random call asking if you “can you start Monday” after we’ve just filled next week up with other works?
The flip side to this mission impossible is the nervousness of staff wondering whether the company they work for will be ok, coupled with offers from similar organisations to jump ship, which then gives the employee a conundrum of “better the devil you know” or is the “grass greener”? This recruiting merry-go-round then kicks in and of course the salary costs increase. And that’s just at tier two.
Having spoken to many tier one contractors, they also have the same issues, but the numbers are far greater. Is this what led to Carillion to spread their wings and their risk? That is a topic for a whole other blog.
Ultimately though, these issues are causing our skilled nationals and internationals to look further afield or return home. The much talked about Dubai is usually the first question, but Dubai has been quiet for a year or two, and only the necessity to complete works for Expo 2020 will see an upturn there.
Can we get some of the ex-pats to come back? Possibly, we’re trying; however Saudi Arabia has a £350bn investment plan in Neom and the King of Bahrain is inviting infrastructure-related CEOs to have a “chat” with him in May this year, with a view to investing their gazillions of oil money into their infrastructure. This is quite an attractive proposition.
However, will their projects be subjected to the tiresome politics and red tape typical of these regions? Unlikely. Anyone heading there will know what they will be getting, the continuity of work and weather and there won’t be an election every two minutes, plus earnings will be tax free. Other areas of interest are regularly Australia, the US, Hong Kong and Canada, which are all much more stable than the UK, when it comes to the pipeline of construction and infrastructure projects, and of course they are English speaking too.
Another factor to consider is the unfortunate uncertainty around the government in the UK and that is starting to prove costly. When is the next election going to be? Is it around 16 elections in the last 18 years? As soon as any election is announced, again works stop, and I’m not sure how many more we can stomach, as individuals or organisations either being affected by cash flow or losing staff.
Couple that with the questionable competency of project heads/teams to deliver their projects on time-or even start them on time (would be nice) then we’re making our own nest. I recently saw a video of a 1,500 strong Chinese workforce building a railway over-night. The irony and the almost comical amount of “likes” and by whom was not lost on me!
The skills shortage is a real and present issue and with Brexit hanging over the UK and the uncertainty it brings, whilst looking to abroad for talent maybe a diminishing option, perhaps the real worry is how much talent we lose to those far more attractive overseas projects. The brain drain is a possibility and if our business is anything to go by – happening now!
- Pete Bevils is CEO of Recruitment Central