The latest survey of SME building firms by the Federation of master Builders (FMB) found that skills shortages are getting worse as activity picks up.
40% of FMB members surveyed said that the workload had increased during the second quarter of 2014. Only 14% had seen a decrease. This positive balance of +26 percentage points is up from a balance of +17 points in the first quarter survey. This was the fifth consecutive quarter with a positive net balance.
Further increases are expected. In the first quarter the balance of firms expecting an increase in business minus those expecting a decrease was +29 points. This has now gone up to +34.
One of the side effects is that skilled workers are in increasingly short supply. Plasterers, site supervisors and site managers are proving hard to find, along with bricklayers, who remain top of the ‘most wanted’ list. One in five builders also struggles to recruit plant operators and general construction operatives. Scaffolders remain the least difficult trade to hire.
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “More than a third of construction SMEs tell us that they are struggling to recruit the bricklayers they need to stay on top of their workloads. Plasterers are almost as difficult to come by with 27% of firms saying they are having difficulty finding these skilled tradesmen. The results act as a stark warning that the government must not take the recovery in the construction sector for granted. Although this snapshot of small construction firms marks the fifth consecutive quarter of positive results, if we don’t have enough of the right people to complete the work, private and public projects could be stalled across the board.”
He added: “Looking ahead, construction SMEs are still hugely concerned about the impact of the government’s apprenticeship funding reforms. If they are implemented as proposed, most micro-businesses, which currently train two-thirds of all construction apprentices, are likely to stop hiring apprentices altogether. CITB forecast that 182,000 new UK jobs are expected to be created in the construction industry by 2018 so this is not the time to jeopardise the ability of small firms to continue their proud history of training apprentices. Not only would this be disastrous for the construction sector itself and the hundreds of thousands of young people who are currently seeking employment, it would also be disastrous for the wider economy which is largely relying on construction and housing to drive the recovery.”