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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

HS2, Brexit and Covid leaves council desperately short of engineers

A local authority has revealed that it is struggling to deliver highways construction projects because of a shortage of engineers likened to the national haulier crisis.

A key figure at Essex County Council said job adverts were going unanswered as the local authority tried to ramp up its work on the roads.

The national shortage of lorry drivers in the wake of Brexit and the Covid-19 outbreak has led to queues for petrol and closed food outlets.

Essex County Council highways department head of design services Vicky Presland said similar factors – along with the increased amount of work on High Speed 2 (HS2) – had caused a dearth of skilled civils workers that was hampering attempts to carry out more local highways projects.

“I know people don’t want to hear it but we are finding it extremely difficult to recruit at the moment,” she said in a presentation to the local authority’s Place Services and Economic Growth Policy and Scrutiny Committee.

“Trying to increase resource in the staffing market we are currently in is extremely difficult.”

For one initiative, the council had only managed to hire two people after five months of trying – and both left before starting.

“Effectively you’ve almost got bidding wars,” said Presland. “Lorry drivers are hitting the headlines but it is the same in the engineering world. Some of the roles we are advertising on our website we aren’t even getting any applicants for.”

She said the department would “struggle” to spend an extra £2.4M it had been given this year for schemes overseen by its local highways panels.

Mega-projects like High Speed 2 had increased demand at a time when supply was restricted in the wake of the UK’s EU exit and the pandemic, added Presland.

“We were reliant on some of the Eastern European countries,” she said. “I have a culturally diverse team, I did have a lot of Polish designers and I don’t have them in the quantity I used to.

"Then there are schemes like HS2 advertising for a thousand engineers – there are just not enough engineering staff to go around.”

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