Analysis carried out by Highways England on the UK's reliance on EU workers makes grim reading for the roads sector when it comes to Brexit.

 

Around 80% of Highways England's 'top 30 suppliers' and 93% of various key supply chain networks responded to the survey, which was briefed to industry last year but has not been released to the public.

 

The news comes as the sector is gripped by a skills shortage while simultaneously carrying out what the Government has repeatedly called 'the largest programme of investment for a generation'.

 

The survey of top contractors reveals that:

  • 45% of respondents said that they had greater than 20% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour /Plant Operative level)
  • 21% of respondents said that they had greater than 30% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour /Plant Operative level)
  • the direct workforce space nearly half of companies have greater than 10% non-UK EU labour and one in five companies have greater than 20% non-UK EU labour.

 

In the subcontractors workforce - Tier 2 and 3 - the picture is even more alarming.

 

The survey found:

  • 33% of respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 30% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
  • 17% of respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 40% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
  • 9% of respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 50% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
  • The survey also revealed that 69% of respondents said non-UK workers were important or very important to the highways sector.

 

To give some idea of how serious any loss of skills right now could be for the highways sector, the survey also revealed that 44% respondents said that current skills shortage is 'either very severe or severe', while only 7% respondents said that current skills shortage is either 'minor or not an issue'.

 

On top of this, it was already revealed that the Government's Apprenticeship Levy, designed to tackle the skills shortage, has paid out just £108m of the roughly £2bn raked in by the end of February, with much of the roads sector not even covered by approved apprenticeship schemes.

 

The Highways England analysis showed the top three barriers in attracting people to the highways sector are:

1st - Careers in other industries are more attractive to STEM graduates & apprentices

2nd - Limited appeal of the highways sector compared to other sectors in infrastructure and the built environment

3rd - Remuneration and rewards are not competitive

 

It also revealed that main barriers in retaining talent are:

1st - Schemes outside the roads sector attract talent away from highways

2nd - Lack of work/life balance

3rd - Fear around job security due to historic stop/start approach to investment

 

Source: https://www.highwaysmagazine.co.uk/Exclusive-Highways-England-analysis-makes-grim-reading-for-Brexit/4055