The latest state of trade survey form the National Specialist Contractors Council (NSCC) shows an increase in orders for a fourth successive quarter. Some 51% of specialist contractors report an increase in enquiries, compared to 21% reporting a decrease in enquiries. This is the fourth successive quarterly increase in enquiries, which has seen the balance rise from 2 to 30 points over the past 15 months, the highest since Q4 2006.
The recent seasonal trend of a decline in orders in the third quarter did not materialise this year with the balance of orders, the difference between respondents reporting an increase in those reporting a decrease, reaching its highest level since 2006.
The NSCC said that this has left specialist contractors with a skills gap, predicted by the Construction Industry Training Board in a report earlier this year. 21% of respondents reported finding it more difficult to recruit skilled labour this quarter, with those finding it less difficult plummeting to just 3%.
68% attributed staffing problems to a lack of applicants with the necessary skills and 50% to a lack of experience. The number of specialist contractors unable to bid for work due to skills shortages reached 13%, the highest level since 2007.
39% of specialist contractors are expecting to take on at least one apprentice over the next 12 months and two-thirds of those are looking to recruit two or more apprentices.
NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “It would appear that the outlook for specialist contractors is increasingly positive with almost half expecting to expand their businesses over the next year. However, it is now time to invest in our workforce to prevent future skills shortages and safeguard the successful long term growth of the industry.”