The Challenges in Health & Safety recruitment


Dominic Jacques (Head of Health & Safety and CDM recruitment) recently attended the APS Conference in Sheffield and was asked to write an article for the APS Project Safety Matters magazine on the challenges in Health and Safety recruitment.


Here’s what he had to say. 


The Market

There is a vast skills shortage in the industry with most companies actively looking to bring in qualified Principal Designers and struggling to identify suitable candidates in the market.


CDM recruitment was fairly stable back in 2014. There wasn’t a huge amount of growth in large multidisciplinary consultancy teams. However, once the regulations changed in 2015 there was a huge increase in recruitment with far more CDM projects to deliver than ever before. This may have resulted from the number of existing CDM Coordinators moving sideways in Health & Safety Advisory roles and clients desperately trying to find Health & Safety professionals with a design background to fulfil the role of the Principal Designer.  I do a lot of work for Architectural practices and have assisted a number of the big names of the AJ100 list develop in-house teams but, despite this, they report most CDM recruitment still comes from consultancies acting more as a ‘Principal Design Advisor’ or ‘CDM Advisor’.


The Challenges

The industry is facing challenges - including an aging workforce, lack of graduate attraction and unqualified candidates.


Arguably, the biggest recruitment issue facing the Health, Safety & CDM market is the aging workforce. I spend a lot of time speaking to potential candidates within CDM and most have had some other career prior to taking on a role in safety. In my experience, previous roles can vary widely from the military, to the police, from the fire service to construction or design. And as a result, many of the candidates are getting towards the end of their working lives and are making a b-line for retirement. This is a key challenge for potential employers, sparking the need to find graduates or junior members of staff who can be developed and trained in-house.


At Mattinson Partnership, we are seeing a fair number of graduate jobs coming through from surveying, project management, architecture and the environment - but there’s not much in the way of H&S. This highlights a need for more investment at university level to promote Health & Safety as a viable and important career path for graduates aspiring to have an impact in the construction industry.


What has also become clear since the regulatory changes is that anyone with a design background who has moved into safety is a highly sought-after in the market. Unlike other professions, such as surveying or architecture, there is no single professional body for good CDM professionals. A qualified surveyor would have an MRICS certification and a chartered architect would be Part 3 through to RIBA certified. But a CDM professional can have come from a range of backgrounds with varying qualifications. This makes it particularly difficult for a potential employer to tell from a CV whether somebody will be the right fit for the team or not.


The most desirable qualifications tend to be a combination of a design degree in architecture, engineering or surveying, paired with a Health & Safety qualification (NEBOSH Construction or an APS Principal Designer course), as well as membership of a recognised professional body – such as the APS for design safety. Clients also need to see demonstrable experience in delivering the Principal Designer or CDM Advisor role. Here at Mattinson we say it’s one thing to have the qualifications but if you can’t communicate your technical knowledge effectively on site, or in design team meetings, then you won’t be able to fulfil the role.


With an aging workforce, little graduate interest and under-qualified candidates, simply posting a job online is not likely to attract the right candidates. A large part of the recruiters’ job is maintaining a network of professionals and over a number of years, I have sourced many good people through connections and referrals. Informing our clients about this and helping them understand the importance of using a specialised recruiter who knows the industry, is paramount to framing the right role and attracting quality candidates.


Looking to the future

Looking to the future, we anticipate it will be interesting to see how things develop.


CDM is likely to remain very buoyant but we are seeing an increased interest in bringing on board people with additional experience and qualifications in fire safety. As a result of recent events in construction and fire safety changes are being made to ensure the highest possible safety standards are delivered across the UK and Internationally.


Like everyone else, I’m holding my breath to see how BREXIT pans out but hopefully, once the country has a final answer, the future landscape of the construction industry will become clearer. A number of people we have placed in Principal Designer roles have been designers who came to the UK from Europe and trained in Health & Safety. In the event of a no-deal BREXIT he is expecting a decrease in the flow of talent. This, combined with a number of current CDM Advisors nearing retirement age, will add further to the skills shortage within CDM and the strain on the industry.


We provide tailored recruitment solutions based on client’s business growth ambitions. In recent years I have worked with a number of clients who have struggled to attract qualified CDM Consultants. They have begun looking at alternative hiring options such as, moving towards making more junior hires which can be up-skilled and developed within their organisation.


As there is no degree specific to CDM, junior candidates can come from a number of different backgrounds. I have recently placed graduates into CDM roles and thought their stories were worth sharing with you:


Tim was placed with derisk back in 2018 as a CDM Consultant. She had a background in Hospitality and Event Management but developed a key interest in Health & Safety when it became a key part of her previous role. Once the interest was there, Tim took a paid internship with a consultancy specialising in health and safety for universities around London.


We placed Pavlos with long-term client Stace LLP in 2018. Pavlos took a Diploma in Food Preparation back in Cyprus which gave him a passion for health, safety and quality assurance. Pavlos decided to follow his passion and completed a degree in Occupational Health & Safety. This led him to a placement on a huge construction site. Two months later he was accepted in to a Graduate CDM and H&S Consultant position with Stace.


Chloe – a graduate Architect- found a career in CDM was better suited to her lifestyle. She has a deep passion for architecture but the long hours and comparatively poor remuneration had not been what she was expecting. There is a growing trend for people to prioritise a good work-life balance and Chloe found her role in CDM to offer a greater opportunity for career growth and professional development.



Dominic Jacques is Head of Health and Safety recruitment at Mattinson Partnership 


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