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Last edited 24 May 2021
Q2 2021 trends indicate higher costs, lower employment
The rising costs of labour and materials stand out as major concerns from the Q1 2021 Building Engineering Business Survey (BEBS) of UK electrotechnical and engineering services firms. This is expected to have a negative impact on profits and employment.
Significant uncertainty has led to a quarter of businesses (24%) employing fewer apprentices in Q2 2021. A third (34%) of respondents added that they would need less agency and sub-contracted labour this quarter.
Similarly, eight in 10 (78%) believed labour costs in Q2 2021 would remain stable or rise, with just 20% anticipating a fall. One in five (22%) expect to employ less direct labour in Q2 2021 compared to the previous quarter (Q1 2021).
Survey responses were submitted by 663 engineering services businesses, recording their expectations for both Q2 and Q3 2021, compared to Q1. The survey was carried out in partnership with industry trade bodies BESA, SELECT, and SNIPEF and was sponsored by Scolmore.
 Industry responses
Andrew Eldred, ECA Director of Employment and Skills, said, “Employment and apprenticeships are still at risk. Behind the headline growth figures, conditions remain challenging for many engineering services employers and employees.”
Rob Driscoll, ECA Director of Legal and Business, added, "Uncertainty of demand post-pandemic, a backlog of potential COVID-19 disputes, implementation of Reverse VAT, IR35, continuing H&S restrictions due to COVID-19, sharply escalating materials, along with costs, delays and shortages – are compounding in the first half of 2021 to create one of the most hostile business landscapes in recent memory. When demand rockets in an environment of restricted supply and price remains low, margins are squeezed to breaking-point. By extension, the pressure this brings on employment and training is historically undeniable.”
Paula Samuels, BESA Head of Employment Affairs said “Although the sector has remained active throughout the pandemic delivering essential services, the outlook appears uncertain. The impact of the materials crisis, reduced profitability and the future employment landscape are of real concern.”
Alan Wilson, Managing Director of SELECT, shared this observation, "It is clear that the industry still faces many challenges, and it is concerning to see the ongoing apprehension about delays, shortages and the rising costs of materials that are available. It is therefore vital for businesses to plan ahead, order well in advance and factor in for potential disruption to the supply chain.”
Fiona Hodgson, Chief Executive of SNIPEF, conceded, "The industry certainly has a lot of challenges at the moment, and they look set to stay for some time. Our members are now starting to feel the dual effects of the pandemic and Brexit with rising prices, product shortages and longer lead times. The reduction in the number of apprenticeships is of particular concern given the skills shortages already in our industry, and this can only exacerbate the problem for the future. This could lead to hindrance when meeting the Government's net zero ambitions.”
This article was originally released under the headline, 'Higher costs, lower employment expected for fraught engineering services sector'. It was published on 19 May 2021.
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