Are there workforce composition problems in the UK electrical contracting industry?

Sparksafe survey reveals alarming statistics around public sector construction projects

We analysed eleven recent public sector construction projects with a combined value of circa £200 million to ascertain the composition of the electrical workforce. The projects ranged in value from £500K to £60 million. Each of the projects were considered to be complex in scope.

SparkSafe workforce ratio guidance recommends a 50% minimum cohort of Qualified Electricians (QE) where complex electrical work is to be undertaken. None of the projects in the sample meet the proposed recommendations.

  • Eight of the eleven projects are reported with a QE worker percentage between nil and 25%
  • Three projects operated without a QE worker
  • Four projects operated with a QE cohort of 15% or less
  • The most significant value project (circa £60 million) was contingent on 75% of the electrical workforce operating below a QE licence level

Quality improvement and control measures are likely to be undermined when the industry becomes over-reliant on the use of semi-skilled, underqualified, or apprentice workers to carry out complex and skilled tasks. Exceptions do exist. High-quality, close supervision and other control measures may off-set the accumulation of defective work, reoccurring snagging lists and latent defects. However, the trend if unchecked in this and other building service sectors, will continue to produce a diminishing return for an already ailing construction industry.

Skilled labour shortages, lack of CPD drivers and other demographic factors point to a national 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.

The resolve of many responsible electrical contractors to maintain traditional standards, has been eroded as other existing and new 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. Unfortunately, insolvency and/or prosecution are the primary checks and balances for the 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 conventions of the industry. The ultimate authority and influencer over the behaviour and development of the industry, is the client.

The findings of our analysis flow from an absence of specification and scrutiny concerning the dynamics and composition of the contractor’s workforce ratio. A greater effort by specifiers and designers is usually placed on material specification and compliance. 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. Perhaps, it’s time for responsible clients to proactively exercise their authority and preference, over those who install electrical systems on their projects.

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