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Contractors recruit ahead of upturn


CIVIL ENGINEERING contractors are undertaking a significant recruitment drive in the belief that 2000 will be a better year than 1999.

The latest workload survey from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association reveals that 49% of firms have more work now than they had a year ago, while 35% have less. Thirty five per cent of firms predict that workload will rise this year, while only 4% foresee a drop.

As a result, professional staff numbers have also increased, with 43% of firms employing more - against 13% reporting a fall. Asked if staff numbers would rise further in 2000, 41% said yes while just 5% expected a fall. Thirty nine per cent said they were short of professional staff.

The optimism is founded on a significant increase in rail projects and building preparatory work. There are also signs that the slump in road construction and maintenance is slowing.

Last October, the workload balance was -12, with contractors complaining that there waslittle sign of Railtrack beginning to spend its £27bn, 10 year budget. However, the impact of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has increased the balance to +14. Furthermore, Railtrack appears to be starting to spend, with 37% of firms reporting an increase in orders, against 28% noticing a drop.

Preliminary building work is proving the most reliable area of work, with the balance of firms reporting a greater workload than 12 months ago and hovering between +14 and +18 since April. The balance seeing an increase in orders is +13.

The roads sector appearsmarginally less depressed. The balance of firms reporting a drop in orders has slipped 25 to -27 for national roads and 33 to -32 for local roads since July. Twenty five per cent of contractors saw an increase in orders for national roads.

The feeling of guarded optimism is well spread, with firms in the South, the Midlands, the North West and Scotland looking forward to 2000. However, firms in the north of England reported a drop in orders, employment levels and expected workload.

There is also little joy for firms working in the electricity and gas sectors. Only 11% of firms saw electricity orders rise, while 7% saw an increase in gas orders. Thirty nine per cent experienced lower electricity orders, while 16% saw gas orders fall.

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