78% of contractors impacted by skills shortages and more than half look to subcontractors to fill the gap

A survey of over 350 contractors by ECIC, a specialist insurer for the contracting sector, has underlined the immense pressure the sector is under to fill skills shortages and the increasing reliance on subcontractors to fill the gap. However, industry initiatives to tackle the skills shortage and encourage young people to join the sector appear to be working, with almost a third of the contractors surveyed intending to take on more apprentices in the next year.

In its survey, ECIC found that:

  • 30% of contractors said their business has been quite seriously impacted by skills shortages. 44% have been marginally impacted in some way and 4% severely impacted.
  • 25% of respondents are going to use more labour only subcontractors in the next year, and 31% will use more bona fide subcontractors.
  • 32% of the contractors surveyed plan to take on more apprentices in the next year.

Richard Forrest Smith, CEO of ECIC, said: “It’s no secret that the contracting sector, including the UK’s engineering services sector, which is our key focus at ECIC, is facing a serious skills shortage, which is increasing dependence on subcontractors. This is underlined in the findings of a recent survey by ECIC’s parent, the ECA, which showed that labour costs had increased for five in ten engineering services contractors. Greater use of subcontractors can make the task of managing health and safety on site much more complex, so it is important main contractors understand their responsibilities, not just to subcontractors but to the apprentices they employ too.”

ECIC says Bona fide contractors will be responsible for managing their own health and safety and have their own systems of work. In contrast, the insurer says labour only subcontractors should be treated, from a duty of care perspective, like a directly employed member of staff. However, as main contractors tend to remain contractually liable to the CDM coordinator / site owner for works undertaken by the subcontractors they employ, ECIC advises that they should always satisfy themselves of the adequacy of their bona fide subcontractors’ health and safety documentation.
Where apprentices are concerned, ECIC says they should be treated by the contractor as an employee and the contractor would have a responsibility to ensure procedures are in place including adequate supervision taking into consideration the experience, knowledge and ability of the apprentice.