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78% of contractors impacted by skills shortages

56% plan to inncrease use of subcontractors to help fill the gap 

A survey[1] of over 350 contractors by ECIC, the specialist insurer for the contracting sector, has underlined the immense pressure the sector is under to fill skills shortages and the increasing reliance on sub-contractors 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 sub-contractors in the next year, and 31% will use more bona fide sub-contractors
  • 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[2] by ECIC’s parent, the ECA, which showed that labour costs had increased for 5 in 10 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.

Bona fide contractors will be responsible for managing their own health and safety and have their own systems of work.  In contrast, 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 co-ordinator / site owner for works undertaken by the sub-contractors they employ, ECIC advises that they should always satisfy themselves of the adequacy of their bona fide sub-contractors’ health and safety documentation. 

Where apprentices are concerned, 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.

Richard Forrest Smith concludes: “It’s vital main contractors create an embedded approach to health and safety amongst the entire workforce, from apprentices through to highly skilled subcontractors. The alternative is greater risk of accidents on site, leading potentially to liability claims, prosecutions, heavy fines and even possibly a jail sentence.

“On a more positive note, the plans to take on more apprentices is welcome news.  Our parent, the ECA, has campaigned for quality engineering and technical apprenticeships and is working with partners within TESP – The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership – on a career progression project intended to upskill existing workers within the industry. Our findings suggest these efforts are starting to reap rewards.



[1] Survey undertaken with Construction Enquirer, March 2017, completed by 357 Contractors

[2] http://www.eca.co.uk/news-and-events/news/2017/may/survey-engineering-services-sector-powers-ahead 


ECIC media contacts

For further information please contact the ECIC Press Office at HSL:  Alison Reeson/Clare Watson.  0208 977 9132.  ECIC@harrisonsadler.com


ECIC is a trading name of Markel International Insurance Company Limited, whose ultimate holding company is Markel Corporation.


Markel International Insurance Company Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority (Financial Services Register No.: 202570). 

Registered Office: 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3AZ. Company Number: 00966670. 


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