Huge Shortfall in Number of Construction Workers
Some of the biggest building companies in the country have indicated that the one factor that is impacting on their ability to meet construction targets is the lack of available workers. This is more concerning to them than a lack of sites or materials and needs addressing seriously if the country is to build the required number of homes.
The government has pledged that we will have 200,000 new homes before 2020, but with the current levels of recruitment this is completely unachievable. The industry has a severe lack of workers, particularly those in the most skilled areas. Without changes being made to how we train and recruit construction workers, we will miss this and future targets.
Research carried out recently by the Federation of Master Builders found that amongst small and medium-sized builders, 66% of them have had to refuse work, from full-scale developments to fitting exterior handrails, simply because there aren't the workers to do it. The areas that are suffering the highest shortages are for carpenters and bricklayers.
These shortages are being seen across the UK, with specific areas having their own individual difficulties. In the east of England they have a need for plasterers, whereas scaffolders are especially hard to find in the West Midlands, and Northern Ireland has a lack of general labourers.
The Growing Need for Apprenticeships
In order to truly fill the construction skills gap, we need to be looking at the root of the problem. This is the number of young people who are entering the industry. If we are to train enough people to have the skills to build houses, do carpentry work or install exterior handrails, we need to ensure that enough of them are joining apprenticeship schemes.
It is estimated that we require about 35,000 new apprentices in order to meet the expected demand. However, there were just 7,000 who finished their training in 2013. Often there is a perception amongst young people that the construction sector is poorly paid, but this is not necessarily true. For example, the research from the FMB highlights that a bricklayer who has five years' experience in the industry could be earning £31,000.
As they can't always find the right people through these methods, some house builders are turning to alternative sources of recruitment. For instance, some are targeting those leaving the military or other industries. They may not have originally trained in construction, but they often have transferable or relevant skills that can be useful. Other businesses need to look abroad to boost their workforce. However, these are not sustainable solutions, and the country needs to be encouraging more people to join the industry in the first place.
By tackling the construction skills shortfall, we will be helping to create an industry that can continue to be successful in the future. Without the required number of workers, we will begin to lag behind other countries in terms of construction figures and struggle to house our own population.