Construction Recruitment During COVID-19 – Should I Still Be Recruiting People for Site?

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Our Regional Director, Caroline Oberman, is writing a series of blogs about life in the Construction industry during the coronavirus pandemic and how it's impacting on construction sites and construction workers in the UK.

Here she shares her thoughts on Safe Site Operating Procedures.

Firstly this is my very first blog, so to anyone reading this please remember our thoughts back in February when we were all hashtagging #BEKIND and promising to be less harsh to our peers.

To those who don’t know me well, I have been working within the Construction and Engineering Recruitment Industry for 15 years; initially working as a Consultant within the housebuilding sector and then building a team within construction and fit out; however in the last recession of 2008 I diversified into nuclear power and engineering.

Almost six years ago, following 8 great years at Search Consultancy I decided I wanted to leave the corporate world and join an SME, so I made the decision to join Linear Recruitment to create and develop a new region in the North West, specialising in construction recruitment. We have been open now for 5 years and my team specialises in all construction work from labour up to Director level and everything in between. I love the construction industry and I am very grateful for the career it has enabled me to have and the good friends I have met along the way.

I have decided to write this blog for many reasons - not least so I have something to look back on once all this is over and be thankful I made it out the other side, in one piece and with my sanity intact (some may argue this is not the case) - but also to help others during this time, both within my sector and outside, as I am sure people will be dealing with similar issues in all types of employment.

My plan is to write about a different subject each week focusing on different issues affecting my market and job role, although these opinions are my own and not necessarily that of my company.

Coronavirus and the Construction Industry

Where we stand today, some clients have closed all sites completely, whilst some have remained open but with a huge reduction in labour to enable them to comply with the social distancing measures on site, and also like everything, cashflow is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. For my region personally, I have had three quarters of sites close and all permanent recruitment temporarily put on hold. It brings backs memories of 2008, when everything started to fall apart.

Workers and Coronavirus

There has been concerns from both sets of workers – those that have been “furloughed” or simply let go, and those who are now expected to go to work on site when the government is telling everyone to “stay home”. For a recruiter working within the construction sector this leaves us in a very novel situation – it is not unusual for sites to have workers who miss days here and there and normally we would be putting people on “last chances” and urging them to make sure they were back on site as soon as possible. But suddenly we are now asking people to potentially put themselves in danger, not even necessarily on the site but also by making bus / train journeys or car sharing and that is not something I ever thought I would be doing in my job!

Should I still be recruiting during coronavirus?

It is an impossible situation for these site workers – do they go to work because they need the money? Or do they stay at home because they have a pregnant wife or an asthmatic child and the risk is too high – but then they have no money to pay the bills? I genuinely feel torn on this matter – I do believe that the construction sites we are dealing with will be working to ensure the safety of their staff and subcontractors, but if someone doesn’t feel safe going to a place to work I do not feel that I am in a position to tell them how they should feel or what they should do.

To make matters more confusing the Construction Leadership Council released Site Operating Procedures on March 23rd that were, after review, amended and re-released on April 2nd. Now following “significant feedback” (http://www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/news/site-operating-procedures-during-covid-19/) they have had to go back to the original version whilst a new amended set of procedures are created. This has created more confusion for both workers and contractors, so I really hope that the new document is released quickly and can give clear, realistic safe procedures that we all can work to.

Having spoken to my key clients over the last few weeks, I am confident that there are construction sites that can be operated safely. It may take time to get it completely perfect, it will certainly take a lot of effort from everyone on site and I believe it is every person’s responsibility to take accountability for their own and their colleagues’ safety and wellbeing.

I would be interested to hear other people’s views on safe site working, and how they will be managed on site – so please feel free to comment or message me in relation to this subject. 

Keep an eye out for next week's blog - Caroline will be discussing all things furloughing during the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the construction industry.