SME construction firms struggling to find skilled workers

A shortage of skilled workers has led resulted in two-thirds of those running SME construction firms struggling to find carpenters and bricklayers.

This is according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) trade survey, which found that the majority (68%) of UK small and medium-sized construction firms (SME) are unable to hire bricklayers, whilst 63% are having trouble finding carpenters and joiners. These percentages are the highest on record.

The figures were not much lower where electricians and plumbers were concerned, with the proportion of firms struggling to find workers in these professions at 48%. The percentage of firms having trouble finding plasterers and floorers were also at record highs, at 46% and 30% respectively.

According to the research, the final quarter of 2017 also saw a fall in the rate of growth where SME workloads were concerned, whilst anticipated workloads and new enquiries saw a steeper fall.

For the first time since 2014, expected workloads for those building new homes observed a negative net balance, with the number of construction SMEs predicting a rise in workload decreasing.

The research also showed that the majority of builders (87%) felt that the price of materials would grow during the next six months, with just under two thirds (61%) anticipating a growth in salaries and wages over the same period.

Commenting on the research was Brian Berry. The FMB’s Chief Executive stated: ‘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.

Warning of the consequences of a skills deficiency in certain sectors, he highlighted the need for free movement of people and the responsibility of the government.

‘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.’

Today's Conveyancer