Research reveals shortage of skilled workers in British home building industry

Two thirds of those running small and medium sized (SME) construction firms in the UK are struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters as construction skills shortages hit a record high.

The latest state of the trade survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) reveals that 68% are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners, the highest figures since records began in 2008.

The number of firms reporting difficulties hiring plumbers and electricians reached 48% while 46% are having problems finding plasterers and 30% finding floorers, also record highs.

The research also shows that construction SME workloads grew at a slightly slower rate in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared to the previous quarter but new enquiries and expected workloads slowed more sharply.

Overall expected workloads among those firms building new homes showed a negative net balance for the first time since 2013 and fewer construction SMEs predict rising workloads in the coming three months, down from 41% in the previous quarter to 38%.

Some 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months, up from 82% in the previous quarter and 61% of construction SMEs expect salaries and wages to increase in the next six months.

Brian Berry, FMB chief executive, said:

‘Skills shortages are sky rocketing and it begs the question, who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for. The Government has set itself an ambitious target to build 300,000 homes every year in England alone.

‘More than two thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers which is one of the key trades in the building industry. This has increased by nearly 10% in just three months which points to a rapid worsening of an already dire situation. What’s more, nearly as many are facing difficulties hiring carpenters and joiners.

‘These figures are the highest we’ve noted since records began a decade ago. As a result, the wages for these increasingly scarce skilled tradespeople continue to rise sharply; that’s a simple consequence of supply and demand. This, coupled with the fact that small construction firms continue to face significant material price increases, will inevitably squeeze their margins and put a brake on growth.’

Berry believes that the Government must take account of the worsening construction skills shortage with Brexit now just over a year away.

Brian Berry said:

‘The Prime Minister must ensure that the immigration system that replaces the free movement of people can take account of the particular needs of key sectors such as construction and house building.

‘Without skilled labour from the European Union, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse, and it is not in anyone’s best interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system.’

He also pointed out that on the domestic front and in the longer term, to ensure there will be an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, the Government must continue to work with industry to set the right framework in terms of T-Levels and apprenticeships.


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