Construction skills shortage reaches record high, new research shows

A shortage of construction workers among small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms is “sky rocketing” and threatens to cast doubt over the government’s lofty ambitions to build 300,000 new homes in England alone, new research has revealed today.

The findings have been published by the Federation of Master Builders in their Q4 State of Trade survey. The report has found that an ever-increasing skills shortage and surging prices for materials are marginalising SME builders’ profit margins. The FMB’s latest quarterly data reveals that 68% of respondents are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners – the highest figures since the body began collecting records.

The increasing skills gap means wages are rising sharply for skilled tradespeople, according to the FMB with 87% of builders believing that material prices will rise in the next six months, up from 82% in the previous quarter; and 61% expect salaries and wages to increase in the next six months. 

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, 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.”

With Brexit fast approaching and uncertainty cast over thousands of EU construction workers, the FMB chief executive is calling on the government to take account of the worsening construction skills shortage and allow free movement of people.

“Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse,” Berry added. “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.”

However, in light of Carillion’s collapse last week, Berry believes those who face redundancy should not be out of work for too long with companies needing to plug the skills gap in workforces.

He added: “The silver lining to current skills shortages among construction SMEs is that the numerous tradespeople and professionals, who may find themselves out of work following the collapse of Carillion, have a ready supply of alternative employers.”

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