The coronavirus pandemic has hit most industries hard, but infrastructure – a sector dominated by transport – has fared better than many.
The award-winning multidisciplinary team of technology and engineering recruitment experts at Advanced Resource Managers (ARM) has been analysing the state of talent in the industry over the past three months, and comparing that to the wider UK, so they can better understand the impact of COVID-19’s disruption, and even gauge how quickly a recovery might be possible.
Job vacancies and retained jobs
Labour market data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that overall UK job vacancies fell by 55.1 per cent for the period between June and August (year-on-year), but this doesn’t reflect every sector. ARM’s latest market report shows that, in infrastructure, there was a decrease of just 22 per cent – less than half the average national rate.
Talent in the sector has remained steady, with a pool of 350,000 people, and its largest firms are still hiring – telling signs of optimism. Rail plays a big part in that, as Network Rail, Atkins (HS2 contractor) and Transport for London are the industry’s three biggest employers.
Supply and demand in infrastructure
The decrease in the number of jobs advertised has, in turn, affected the number of candidates per role. The average number of candidates for each infrastructure role rose in all 12 of regions of the UK. London, the North West, North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber all saw growth of one candidate per role over the quarter – the smallest change – while there were three extra candidates for each position in Scotland: the biggest difference. All other regions saw a change of +2 per vacancy.
New projects breeding optimism
HS2 is currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project, and the most high-profile to happen in the UK for some time. The administrative progress made during 2020, along with the formal start of construction works in early September, has helped foster a bright outlook among rail talent, despite the widespread uncertainty
“HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better – and with construction now formally underway, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month. “By creating hundreds of apprenticeships and thousands of skilled jobs, HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity across this country for years to come.”
ARM’s report suggests this optimism is shared by infrastructure’s talent pool. Online searches for ‘HS2 jobs’ were up 40 per cent over the past quarter, with broader queries like ‘HS2 map’ (+60%) and ‘Crossrail stations’ (+250%) also rising.
More momentum in diversity
Earlier in the year, more attention was being given to gender diversity in rail, with major employers like Southeastern and East Midlands Trains introducing new measures to address a stark imbalance.
The imbalance isn’t unique to rail; it exists in general infrastructure, too, where the workforce make-up stayed at 78 per cent male to 22 per cent female throughout the last quarter. But ARM’s report shows that the issue hasn’t been forgotten amid all the disruption. The most telling sign is that online searches for ‘women in engineering’ grew by 250 per cent.
Clearly there’s still plenty of work to do around diversity, but it’s encouraging that some of the momentum we saw building before the pandemic is still present now.
So, the past three months have proven that the infrastructure sector, and rail within it, is more resilient than most. It has experienced a downturn: salaries have fallen slightly and job ads have decreased, but both at rates below the national averages – and given how important the sector’s health is to the UK’s general economic recovery, that is extremely encouraging.
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