Workforce Composition Problems in the UK Electrical Contracting Industry

10 February 2021

Quality improvement and control measures are likely to be undermined when the workforce model becomes over-reliant on the disproportionate use of semi-skilled, underqualified, or apprentice workers to carry complex and skilled tasks. Exceptions do exist. High-quality, close supervision, as well as other control measures, may off-set the accumulation of defective work, reoccurring snagging lists, and latent defects. However, if unchecked, this trend will continue to wither an already ailing construction industry.

Historical toleration of this model has progressively shifted the Client prerogative to one of necessity and acceptance in terms of workforce composition in parts of the UK. Skilled labour shortages, lack of CPD drivers, and other demographic factors point to an industry that presently struggles to field a match fit team for industrial and commercial projects. Extended supply chains and focus on health and safety checks at the gate, have blurred Client insight into the occupational identity and qualitative make-up of the contractor’s workforce.  Nevertheless, projects are completed, commissioned, and eventually handed over.

So, what are the problems?

  • A decline in quality and standards is widely reported throughout the industry. Clients are often forced to contend or accept failing and inconsistent standards by the industry to gain timely possession of their project.
  • Failure to correct the problem means that it will become worse. The virtuous loop of sustainable skill training is replaced by a vicious circle which depletes the industry with a feed of semi-skilled and under-qualified workers.
    The resolve of many responsible electrical contractors to maintain traditional standards has been eroded as other new and existing enterprises adjust working practices to win contracts, build turnover and attempt to stay in business. Who could blame them! Discipline and restraint by the industry are poorly regulated. Insolvency and/or prosecution are the primary checks and balances for the UK electrical contracting industry.

Attempts at self-regulation have broken down as competitive instincts and market forces, compel the supply chain to find ways of getting around the notional conventions of the industry. Industry-led, self-help efforts must continue. Responsible trade and industry bodies must be encouraged, supported and be subject to constructive criticism in their efforts to do the right thing.

However, the ultimate authority and influencer over the behaviour and development of the industry, is the Client. Specifiers and designers usually place more time and effort on material specification. Whereas the competency of those who install those materials is often presumed and unchecked. High spec materials and low-tech installers don’t make sense! By using their buying authority, responsible Clients can halt the decline, reinstate the virtuous loop, and help produce a much-needed win-win outcome for the UK going forward.