How will the NIC budget proposals impact recruitment?

The recent National Infrastructure Commission report highlighted several issues in the industry. Amongst other things that productivity in terms of the development of infrastructure is below the national average in almost every major city in the UK. To address this the NIC’s recommendation was to implement 5 year budget cycles covering smart technology implementation, routine maintenance and well as minor infrastructure enhancements.

While both Highways England and Network have already adopted 5 year cycles, their budgets are secured 2 years in advance which provides ample time for planning and implementation. In terms of recruitment this makes a significant difference. If the budgets only commence when the 5 year cycle starts there is a significant lag in recruitment because contractors won’t hire until the strategic planning phases are completed and this can take up to 2 years.

Could 5 year cycles disadvantage recruitment?

Much has been debated about the boom and bust cycles in construction and this has a direct impact on recruitment. While a 5 year cycle may make strategic sense in terms of finances, it needs to be considered in terms of the skills available and needed to meet the requirements of infrastructure projects.

While the delay in recruitment may be understandable because planning does need to happen first, and requirements often change, it makes getting the right skills at the right time challenging. When the go ahead happens after a year or two of planning then things often need to move fast and it sometimes only leaves only a small window of time to find the right expertise.

Change vs continuity

When moving into the final phase of the 5 year cycle uncertainty once again prevails. Will contracts be renewed? Will strategies change? And what impact will this have on the skills needed? While the pressure may be on for contractors to meet deadlines within the 5 year framework they will be reluctant to hire on new people when there’s uncertainty as to whether they’ll retain contracts for the next 5 year cycle.

A change in strategy can also impact the skills required. This is particularly relevant when a client implements new technology. For example: a digital signaling system or remote wireless monitoring will not only require the technical skills to install but also for managers strategizing and overseeing the implementation to have sufficient digital knowledge to do so effectively.