Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of contingent labour in the construction and civil engineering sector in the UK. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper presents the findings of a national postal survey of employment practices within
the UK construction and civil engineering sector. The survey was conducted in 2002 and covered firms of all sizes within the sector. This technique has been supplemented with in-depth interviews to provide a deeper understanding of the issues raised. Findings ‐ The paper finds
that employers' use of contingent labour is widespread and that in many cases, the use of contingent labour has increased over recent years. It is argued that recourse to the use of contingent labour may increasingly be a constrained choice for employers, reflecting overall labour shortages
and recruitment difficulties in the sector. The paper also finds that the use of contingent labour contributes to skills shortages in the industry, with the scope of training offered to workers on these contract forms being limited in nature. Originality/value ‐ The paper reveals
the complex relationship between the use of contingent labour and ongoing skills shortages in the sector. The paper concludes that the cycle of turning to contingent labour in response to recruitment difficulties does not replenish the skill profile of the sector and therefore offers no long-term
solution to the skills shortages within the construction industry.