Where have all the builders gone?

With the Government promising 200,000 new homes per year over the course of parliament and the introduction of schemes such as Help to Buy accelerating demand, the housing sector should be thriving following years of austerity and budget cuts.

As one of the worst-hit industries during the recession, the construction sector is regaining the momentum it had pre-2007 but seems recessionary effects are still being felt today. After the slowdown, hundreds of thousands of workers left the industry to find work in alternative fields, and this has ultimately resulted in a serious skills shortage which is becoming more and more visible.

According to The Federation of Master Builders, over half of the UK’s 400 building organisations surveyed are struggling to recruit skilled bricklayers, carpenters and site managers which is preventing companies meeting the demands of the government and first-time buyers. And with just 135,000 new homes built last year, considerably short of the 240,000 properties housing charities are calling for, it comes as no surprise organisations are failing to meet housing targets and resources are being squeezed to their absolute the limit.

Not only that, but even when qualified builders are found, according to the British Property Federation’s (BPFs) annual survey planning applications are still holding back development, with average approval time increasing by six weeks. The results will surely come as a blow to the Government which fought for the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), in a bid to kick-start housing development across the country.

The demand for skilled labour within the infrastructure sector is at an unprecedented level and this is forecast to rise with major programmes on the horizon, such as strategic roads investment, HS2, Crossrail 2 and new nuclear projects.

The UK labour market is overheated and the main contractors are fishing in a limited pool for highly skilled resource, which often has a consequence of inflating salaries for scarce skills. To combat the skills shortages, companies are looking at the feasibility of recruiting critical roles from adjacent sectors to reduce the reliance on traditional sources of employees.

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) said that recruiting and training people was now the biggest single issue the industry faces.  In a briefing, they said: “House builders have recruited thousands of apprentices and graduates and are looking to attract people with relevant or transferable skills from the military and other industries. “ In order to plug shortages in the short-term, construction workers are being recruited from abroad.

Whilst house building is certainly on the rise, the level in which it increases will depend on the availability of skilled workers and the speed of planning applications, but there’s little doubt that the result of this is that ambitious housing targets will certainly not be met in the short-term.

Environment Specialists – Author Jon Cooke.

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