Recruitment activity in the building and construction sector has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. At time of writing, with the lockdown easing and many sites returning to work, we are broadly expecting a busy second half of the year. Carrington West Director, Joe Yates, gives his views on what we can expect to see happen to recruitment processes in the sector over the next few months.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on the perm and contract building & construction job market so far?
The truth is this sector has been heavily affected. It is estimated that in excess of 80% of construction companies have been forced to utilise the job retention scheme and the vast majority of recruitment activities were put on hold at the end of March as site activities ceased and companies were forced to work from home. We have also seen a high proportion of companies enforce salary reductions for staff and suspend bonus schemes.
How do you see the market performing over the next 6-12 months?
Carrington West has stayed connected with our clients and candidates in this challenging time and so we are in a good position to witness any emerging trends. We are seeing positive signs with new project starts increasing along with planning applications and tender opportunities whilst site activities resume, in a safe manor. In early June, a lot of businesses are adapting working practices and starting to bring people back off furlough. Ultimately a lot of projects have fallen behind and so we could well see an increase in job opportunities towards the end of summer and into autumn.
Has the pandemic resulted in any major changes in the hiring process?
We have seen drastic changes in the recruitment process. Most clients have worked with us to adapt to using video calling software and are on-boarding office based staff virtually, even having hardware couriered out to people to work remotely. We have also seen some clients start the recruitment process now with a view to make a hiring commitment but with a delayed start date.
Are there any regional disparities in hiring activity?
London and the South East have been most heavily effected, as the initial epicentre of the outbreak in the UK. The capital also presented more challenges around public transport and large site operations where social distancing is more difficult. Many of the SME design consultancies based regionally have managed to cope remotely with staff already working from home in some capacity anyway, so it has been a case of scaling up existing capabilities.
Which skills do you think will be most in demand in the coming months?
We are seeing many businesses trying to tender for more work to make up the shortfall so the need for skilled Estimators, Project Managers and Lead Engineers could be a focus area for a number of businesses in an attempt to increase their order book.
Which sectors/hiring organisations do you expect to be the most active in Q3 & 4 of 2020?
The residential market seems to be gathering pace in terms of getting house building projects back on track. New projects due to start coupled with current projects behind schedule could well result in an increase in demand from large house builders.
Have you seen a change in salary levels or benefits packages offered?
We are yet to see if average salaries in the sector have been affected as there simply have not been enough live opportunities to accurately gauge trends. However, given the high number of organisations that have applied salary cuts for their current staff and the fact that we will be moving into a client led job market, I would anticipate a drop in salaries being offered.
With IR35 changes in the private sector put on hold until 2021, have hiring organisations paused their contract reviews or status determinations?
The short answer is yes, we have seen most organisations that were in the middle of an IR35 review completely pause the project to focus on navigating through a very challenging time, which is understandable. However, I would encourage all organisations to re-visit the process of accessing their workforce as soon as they are able to, as not to let a lot of time and effort go to waste only to be in the same position come early 2021. I think it was the right call by the HMRC though, many businesses were still not prepared even in late March, so hopefully they can be in a better position before April 2021.
What advice would you give candidates looking for roles in the next 6-12 months?
There will be a temptation, out of fear, to take the first thing that comes up. Be patient if you can and keep yourself informed to what the market is doing so you have the confidence you are going for the right position to meet your needs. There are a lot of great employers out there who will get through Covid-19 and emerge stronger. The market will recover so make sure you’re clear on what you want from your next role and be confident you know how to find it, by working with a trusted recruiter and industry expert and doing your own research.