Survey shows that firms are hunting for the right people to aid bounce back

Materials shortages and cashflow continue to affect the construction sector, but recruiting and retaining the right calibre of staff is now the biggest curb on business growth.

That’s the findings from the latest quarterly Building Engineering Business Survey, conducted by SELECT in partnership with ECA, BESA and SNIPEF

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents to the poll said they were hiring more apprentices than last year, showing a recognition that investing in people is the key to future prosperity.

In addition, almost a third (32 per cent) said they plan to directly employ more staff than in the past, showing the value of keeping qualified people in the business.

Fiona Harper, Director of Employment & Skills at SELECT, said: “This UK-wide rise in apprenticeship recruitment is an encouraging sign, and follows the 800 new electrical apprentices and adult trainees taken on in Scotland in 2021  – the highest figures for 12 years. 

“With colleges preparing for a further healthy intake in 2022, it’s clear that there is an appetite for joining the construction sector. 

“However, it’s vital that we don’t rest on our laurels and that we continue to nurture and encourage the talent of tomorrow to ensure that recruitment keeps pace with technology and the demands of our journey to net zero.”

Andrew Eldred, ECA’s Head of Workforce and Public Affairs, added: “We are delighted to see more firms taking on apprentices, but we are not out of the woods yet. 

“With the rapidly changing electrical landscape, we need double the numbers to make the transition to net zero a reality.” 

Some 43 per cent of respondents said tender enquiries have increased in the last quarter, with the biggest challenges to taking contracts finding and keeping the right calibre of people, forecasting inflation, navigating risk and cashflow issues.

Retentions are still the top issue affecting cashflow, with 79 per cent of respondents saying they had up to three per cent of their turnover held in retentions last quarter and 70 per cent being paid a minimum of 30 days after the work was completed. 

However, hope is on the horizon, with nearly a quarter (24 per cent) expecting payment behaviour to improve during 2022. 

Rob Driscoll, Head of Legal and Business at ECA, said: “Businesses must ensure their pricing is versatile and reflects the risks. 

“In a market suffering more than 20 per cent inflation on materials with longer lead-in times where suppliers are repricing up to four times a day, they must be prepared to walk away, rather than accept negative margins at the point of delivery.”