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Exploring new regions? Better keep things flexible

With more and more contractors eyeing expansion in the North, creating a flexible workforce will be crucial to winning work.

Two statistics published recently are particularly telling.

First, the Conservative government’s plans to invest £500bn in infrastructure in the next parliament; and second, the CITB’s Construction Skills Network report, which shows a further 150,000 engineers and one million construction workers will be needed over the next four years.

As we leave the EU, the government knows it has to invest further in infrastructure to boost growth and improve our connectivity to international markets. The CITB’s findings meanwhile point to a need for both more recruitment and training in the industry.

There are signs that investment in construction is increasingly moving outside the capital, with the North-west, Yorkshire and the North-east at the forefront as the government seeks to address historic underinvestment outside London and rebalance the economy. The Conservatives have already offered clues as to their focus by omitting Crossrail 2 from their manifesto altogether, while reiterating commitment to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Alongside this, the newly appointed metro mayors will create a significant increase in work in Manchester and Liverpool as they take over powers for transport, housing, education and health and look to invest in the infrastructure across their regions.

So what does that all mean for contractors?

Staying loose

What we have is seen is that many more construction firms are now looking to expand their workforce in the North, but are understandably reluctant to commit to hiring too many employees before the work starts to come forward. That raises the question of how contractors eyeing regional expansion keep their workforce flexible.

“Using local firms means you’re more likely to find people that will instantly add value to the business through local knowledge and skills”

At NES Global Talent, more than 40 per cent of our permanent recruitment business is in infrastructure and construction. But we’re already noticing more and more firms turning to subcontractors and local main contractors to help them manage periods of growth and uncertainty.

Rather than employing permanent staff and training them up, building a supply chain of trusted subcontractors and local tier ones appears to be an increasingly favoured way to approach regional growth.

Using local firms means you’re more likely to find people that will instantly add value to the business through local knowledge and skills, potentially reducing the need to train up permanent staff from other offices in the UK.

Contract clauses

Building this sort of supply chain can help contractors react quickly to tackle new projects, ahead of launching new teams to embrace the opportunities in the North.

Whether hiring contractors or permanent staff, construction firms have a number of options.

Contractual clauses can further increase flexibility, such as ones that allow staff to move to another location or other reasonable work if required, or annualised hours where staff work more during peak times and less during quiet periods but are still paid in equal instalments year-round.

The bottom line is that, as contractors build their workforces for future regional pipelines, flexibility can offer considerable benefits towards successful growth.

Adam Spelman is regional director for the UK at NES Global Talent

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