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The Freelance Construction Market - Why contracting can be a great career option

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If you are a freelancer, you’ll be used to moving from one job or project to another.  That’s when having a recruiter to provide you with advice and new opportunities can be a great help, but only if they have a proven track record. Alison Blake has just that and she joined Peace Recruitment last May to develop this side of the business, which is now growing strongly. 

Why did you join Peace?

“I knew Chris from way back: we’d both begun at Hays in 2004 and I’d kept in touch, both socially and professionally.  Over a year ago, he approached me to say he wanted to invest in the contractor market and he wanted me to set up a team and lead it.  I began on my own, but have since recruited Craig Wishart and, as of April this year, Joey Burns has moved from the perm team to join us.  In the last week, we’ve taken on Martyn Aitken, another experienced recruiter in this space and we expect to make more hires in the year ahead.”

What is the attraction of freelancing in the construction industry?

It offers the chance to be your own boss and work flexibly – something that more and more people want to do nowadays.   There is also generally a financial incentive for individuals to work for themselves.

The opportunities can vary considerably, depending on which area of construction you work in.  For example, a public sector organisation may look to take on a QS for a particular project or to ‘fill a gap’ which can often lead to longer term contracts. In construction, sometimes it might just be holiday or maternity cover, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months: at other times it is project related work.  

The Trades Fortnights within construction used to be a big deal and they are still important at a regional level where local contractors will take the holiday, but in reality sites rarely shut down for these holidays.  The Trades is when the weather is better, there are more daylight hours and more work gets done, especially when a company is trying to catch up from a slowdown caused by bad weather earlier in the year, as happened this year with the “Beast from the East.”  Consequently, there is a lot of demand for contractors over the summer, whether to cover for local firms taking the Trades or for bigger firms staff taking their holidays.  If this suits you, then give us a call!”

What’s the construction freelance market like in Scotland at the moment?

“It’s pretty good.  Certain areas are very busy due to skills shortages, while others, such as civils, are quieter. That’s partly a result of the big infrastructure projects (M8 extension, Forth Crossing, etc.) coming to an end: this has meant that the market has been flooded by people finishing their previous contracts and finding there are fewer new projects in which they can seek work.  However, their skills are often transferable to other areas.

“On the other hand, housebuilding is going like a fair and commercial build and retail are pretty busy too.  It’s very much swings and roundabouts: a few areas are busy for a bit while others are quieter, then vice versa.  That’s what makes it great for those looking for flexible working.”

IR35 looks certain to come to the private sector – what’s your view on this? 

“At Peace, we cover all areas of contractor work, both trades and professional, across both the public and private sectors, so we’re well aware of the impact IR35 has had on the former.  I wouldn’t say there are fewer opportunities in the public sector since IR35 became an issue, but some candidates have just decided that they no longer want to work in that arena and that can make it tricky to find the right people for the client.  

“I expect IR35 to be rolled out to the private sector in the next few years. I’ve seen many changes in employment/tax legislation over my career to date, but you’d have to be naïve to think that this won’t have an impact. However, while the public sector can be very risk-averse, the private sector is more likely to try to find a way to make this work and get the people they want (and need!) without falling foul of the law.” 

Is construction a job for women?

“Construction recruitment certainly is!  When it comes to the actual, hands-on business of construction I think many people would be surprised how many women already work in the industry.  The popular view is of an all-male building site, which I think it unlikely to change much unless there are some major societal changes, but in surveying, architecture, engineering and the other construction professions, women are commonly employed across a range of jobs.  There could certainly be more women at the top of the industry, but I think that will be simply a matter of time as the current cohort of site managers and the like move up and the older (male) directors retire.” 


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