Contractor Market Insights

1 November 2023

We recently shared a blog about the latest (ONS) labour market data, which highlighted that there has been a decline in open vacancies for contractors. 

However, Tania Bowers, Global Public Policy Director at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), said, “While vacancies have seen a decline for the last few months, they remain above one million.”

Furthermore, she added, “It is crucial that recruiters don’t lose sight of the fact that it is still a tight talent market and skills gaps are growing, regardless of the monthly declines.”

Clara Nilsson, Marketing Intern, spoke to Astute’s Senior Recruiters to hear their perspective on contract recruitment across the energy recruitment sector. 

Daniel Don, Head of Nuclear at Astute, said, “There's a real talent shortage in nuclear and we're trying to combat that by opening our clients’ eyes to candidates’ transferable skillsets from other industries.

“We’re also trying to get companies to consider bringing in people who can be upskilled.

“Obviously, in the contractor market, you're looking for someone to come in and hit the ground running, which is absolutely fair, but there's still some good transferable skills for businesses to consider.”

Kevin Over, Head of Power, added, “We’re also seeing current high demand for contractors, specifically in construction projects within power, across the UK and overseas. 

“Typically, white collar professionals in the management structure of the projects are in particular demand.”

Moreover, Kevin said, “The high demand comes from the market typically being buoyant for contractors at that level and it has been like that for many years. 

“What we are finding is that when projects are at their peak and require certain people to project manage, site manage, or help the build progress, at these points, they need a six-month fix, and a contractor is a shoo-in for that type of role.”

In the Energy-From-Wate (EfW) sector, which Senior Recruitment Partner Lucy Pook is recruiting actively for, there is a high need for Health and Safety job roles, especially in construction, with vacancies such as Safety Advisors, Administrators, Managers seeing exceptional demand.

Lucy said, “Construction is heavily contract driven because obviously of the nature of the projects being time-specific, often for two to three years.

“Once they project is done, they're done. 

“So, that's why obviously there is high demand from clients for contract specialists, and we push for contractors rather than permanent people.”

James Sneller, also a Senior Recruitment Partner, added that the reason why there is a high demand for contractors within the EfW, District Heating and Decarbonisation sectors in all the UK is, “There's a lot of investment from the government now with regards to grants. 

“We're looking at more than £1bn worth of investment from the government in this sector.

“So, district heating, decarbonisation of hospitals, or setting out a district heating network are very much at the paramount of industry now. 

“And, therefore, we're seeing quite a bit of demand in that sector.”

In the nuclear sector, qualifications such as an HNC/HND, an engineering degree, SMSTS, SSSTS, typical CSCS are proving incredibly attractive to employers recruiting site based roles. 

“Clients are also open to someone that may not have a degree, but someone with professional qualifications and is time served,” added Dan.

Kevin added, “In the Power sector, clients look at CDM regulations now and like to see good health and safety qualifications, as there's a high drive for health and safety in the UK. 

“In terms of project management, commercial or quantity surveying, mechanical, electrical, clients can expect degrees, but their requirements depend on the company and project.”

In many cases, experience is key, and James added, “Some of the older professionals on site have not got the qualifications, they've got NVQs or similar, where they would come from a background of hands-on tools experience and work their way up.

“It's a hard one to say qualifications are a big deal. It's more the experience in the industry, experience on the projects that we've been dealing with, are paramount over qualifications.”

Lucy added, “In terms of the Health and Safety job roles, general all round construction experience within the EfW sector is attractive in the industry. 

“However, qualifications are important, and the most required ones are NE Bosch, risk assessment experience, CDM regulations. 

“Furthermore, to be on a construction site, construction site, it’s helpful to have to have a CSCS card or a CCNSG. 

James said, “We're predominantly seeing a lack of talent in the health and safety side of things with quality candidates who've actually had the exposure to these current projects, especially in district heating, a very niche sector where it’s really hard to find quality candidates.”

In terms of day rates, both the Nuclear and the Power sector been steady.

In the Power sector, Lucy is seeing Project Managers command between £300-400 a day, while Managers can be £400-800 a day.

Kevin said, “It all depends on the size of project, length of contract, what is negotiated at the front-end, and typically what is the budget of the client really. 

“A few factors can mean that it could be, the locality for the contractor to, if they're local to home for instance.”

In the Nuclear sector, Daniel said, “Day rates vary by role, most of which seem to be deemed as inside of IR35, so clients seem to be quite open to uplifting the rates to subsidise some of the things that typically will decrease the take home rate.”

James added, “Currently, decarbonisation and, district heating are massive growth areas we’ve seen in the last 12 months.

“We've seen a big increase in demand for talent in these areas, and, just looking at planning across the board from the beginning of the year released by the government, we feel that this is another huge growth market.

For 2028, James said, “It's on the rise in terms of projects, carbon capture, you can't turn a blind eye to that. 

“This is really coming into the scene as this is the window for grants that are potentially going to be released. 

“We’re speaking to large-scale clients that are looking into exploring these avenues, doing some planning for carbon capture units, albeit on an energy from waste site, which will no doubt see increase for talent demands.”

Dan said, “It will be interesting to see how newer technologies develop and where that takes it.

“I think increasingly people are a lot more comfortable with determining whether things fall inside or outside IR35.” 

Finally, Kevin added, “The key thing is getting it right and just making sure that you don't cut off your nose to spite your face in the essence that you don't look at using limited company contractors cause there's still a of a lot of them out there. 

“Our advice is to try and be as openminded as possible and just make sure you're doing your due diligence with all the legislation.”