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Roofers in short supply

6 May 21 The roofing industry has added its name to those across the wider construction industry suffering shortages of materials and skilled labour.

The latest State of the Roofing Industry survey sees roofing contractors reporting significant growth in workloads during the first quarter of 2021 but problems with recruitment and supplies.

The survey was conducted by Glenigan for the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC).

51% of roofing contractors surveyed reported a rise in workloads in the first three months of the year, with only 11% reporting a decline. This trend is set to continue, with a net balance of 35% of firms reporting a rise in enquiries and a balance of 47% expecting growth over the next year.

Growing workloads meant that a net balance of 8 % of firms grew their direct headcount on the previous quarter, and 17% took on more subcontractors. However, 56% of contractors reported recruitment difficulties. Roles that were hardest to fill included roof slaters and tilers (39%), felters (33%), and specialist slaters (29%) and tilers (22%).

Material shortages also exacerbated over the quarter, with 68 % reporting a deterioration. In particular, concrete roof tiles remained the top shortage area closely followed by timber battens, insulation, slate, and clay tiles. Shortages, as well as the rising prices of raw materials, has meant 89% of respondents reported price inflation.

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The survey also found:

  • All sectors of the roofing industry saw growth in Q1 2021, with the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement and new build residential sectors showing the strongest growth;
  • Northern roofing contractors, those in London, and the Southern Counties and those who operate nationwide saw the sharpest rise in workloads. Scotland and Wales both saw falls in those reporting rising workloads, following a busy end to 2020;
  • Government spending on public sector construction projects is expected to drive positive workloads for roofing contractors over the next year, with 70% of contractors in this sector predicting growth over the next twelve months – far above any other sector;
  • Payment continues to be slow – while 62% of roofing firms have contractual payment terms of 30 days or less, only 42% were paid within that period, on average.

Commenting on the report, NFRC chief executive James Talman said: “The roofing industry continued to perform well in the first quarter of this year, with roofers reporting that workloads, enquiries and employment were all up. The residential sector is doing particularly well, driven by the strong new build housing market, and homeowners continuing to spend their extra disposable income on upgrading and replacing their roofs.

“However, there are simply not enough roofers to deliver the amount of demand we are seeing. One in every two roofing contractors are currently struggling to find skilled operatives. This is exacerbating the other challenges roofing contractors are also facing, such as finding materials and managing their cashflow.

“If the government want our industry to help put roofs on 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, retrofit 27 million properties and build brand new schools, hospitals and prisons, then it needs to work with us to help to train, develop and upskill the next generation of roofers.”

Glenigan economics director Allan Wilen said: “The construction recovery strengthened further during the first quarter, with roofing contractors reporting rising workloads. Repair, maintenance and improvement work and new house construction have been the best performing areas. Roofing contractors anticipate that the recovery in workload will be sustained over the next twelve months as the UK economy is unlocked, with new enquiries pointing to a broad-based rise in activity. However, shortages of skilled labour and materials will be a potential brake on the pace of the recovery.”

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