Trade body urges government to act fast with Brexit looming large

Two construction workers with back to camera

Source: Shutterstock / Mavich Stock Man

A new report from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has revealed that skills shortages have hit a record high as construction SMEs find it increasingly difficult to hire quality workers. 

The trade association, which represents thousands of firms across the UK, revealed the worrying findings in its latest State of the Trade survey for Q4, which was compiled by Experian and answered by 338 companies.  

More than two-thirds (68%) of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners, which the trade body said are the highest figures since records began in 2008.

The number of firms reporting difficulties hiring plumbers and electricians (48%), plasterers (46%) and floorers (30%) also reached record highs.

Construction SME workloads grew at a slightly lower rate than in Q3 2017, with 35% of respondents indicating rising activity compared to 37% in the previous three month period.

New enquiries and expected workloads slowed at an even faster rate, with 16% forecasting lower workloads, up from 11% in Q3 2017. Those predicting higher workloads fell to 38% from 41%.

Nearly nine out of 10 builders believed that the cost of materials will rise over the next six months compared to 82% in the previous quarter, while more than 60% of construction SMEs 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 must take account of the worsening construction skills shortage with Brexit looming large on the horizon. 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 EU, 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.

“On the domestic front and in the longer term, to ensure we have 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.”