‘State of Building Trade Survey’ reveals growing skills shortage in construction industry

Quarterly figures show 60% of small building firms are struggling to hire bricklayers

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has warned that a “skills time bomb” in the construction industry is threatening the government’s ambition to increase home ownership and will undermine wider economic growth. Its State of Trade Survey for the third quarter of 2015 paints a picture of a growing skills shortage in the building trade.

In a press release, Brian Berry, Chief Executive Officer of the FMB, referred to the Prime Minister’s ambition of a legacy defined by increasing home ownership. “This won’t be possible without an ample supply of skilled construction workers,” said the FMB’s CEO. “Our latest research shows that a skills time bomb is in danger of exploding with a staggering 60% of small construction firms struggling to hire bricklayers. This has leapt up from 49% just three months ago. Looking at other vital trades, 54% of firms are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners, up from 47% in the previous quarter. If the skilled labour isn’t available, the Government’s ambitions for home ownership won’t be realised.”

He also said that it’s not just house building and home ownership that are being hampered by the skills shortage. “The future economic growth of our country relies on major infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and Hinkley Point, being built, ” he said. “We urgently need to boost our workforce by convincing people – in their thousands – to return to our industry or join us for the first time.” The CEO wants to see an increase in the number of construction apprenticeships. He also said there was a need to raise the status of vocational training and to promote the value of learning a skilled trade as a rewarding career.

The impact of the construction skills shortage was seen in last month’s figures released by the Office for National Statistics, which showed a 2.2% drop in construction output. In a further press release, Brian Berry said: “The latest figures from the ONS will shake away any complacency that the recovery in the construction industry can be taken for granted. The inadequate number of skilled workers remains one of the greatest barriers to construction firms of all sizes being able to grow and prosper – this contraction in construction output could, in part, stem from the increased cost pressures that businesses face as a result of labour scarcity.” However, he also said that the ONS figures should be approached with an element of caution: “This is the first fall in output for more than two years and business sentiment remains positive,” he said.

In a blog post, Dr Michael Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, said the skills shortage in the construction industry helps to explain the disparity between planning permissions and completions. In 2014, he said, planning permissions for residential units in England exceeded the number of completed homes across the whole of the UK by more than 100,000.

The ‘State of Trade’ surveys published by the Federation of Master Builders are available as PDF downloads from the FMB website.