Housebuilding in the UK will be severely hampered by skills shortages in the construction industry, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Construction professionals in a new RICS survey published yesterday (January 14) reported labour shortages as the most significant barrier to growth in the final quarter of 2015. Alongside struggles to find skilled workers has been a substantial increase in wages – pay in the construction industry shot up by 6 per cent in the year to October, compared to an average 2 per cent rise in all sectors.
Bricklayers and quantity surveyors are in particular being sought by the industry, with more than half of construction professionals reporting having difficulties finding these workers.
RICS future talent director Sally Speed highlighted why skilled workers were so important to the future of various housing and infrastructure projects in the UK.
“The construction skills crisis is slowing growth in a sector that is vital to UK plc,” she said. “Unless government looks to address the problem urgently, some of its key housing and infrastructure programmes could soon face crippling delays and spiralling costs.”
“To tackle the problem, government must deliver a new skills strategy that will enable industry, unions, and educators to work together and deliver real solutions,” Speed added. “
Apprenticeships alone will not be enough. Ministers must look to draw a link between education, future careers and skills. Employers need to take the lead in improving skill levels, providing more vocational pathways to work and actively engaging with our country’s schools and colleges.”
Local government, too, has pointed to skills shortages as being a primary reason that housebuilding has slowed to a standstill.
The Local Government Association (LGA) found that in 2015 nearly half a million homes had planning permission but have not yet been built, up from 381,390 two years ago.
And the slowdown in construction in turn has been a chief driver of skyrocketing housing and rent costs, as supply struggles to keep pace with demand. London alone is estimated to need 50,000 new homes to be built each year to meet demand. Last year, the capital built less than half this number.
“Skills is the greatest barrier to building, not planning,” said LGA housing spokesperson Peter Box. “If we are to see the homes desperately needed across the country built and jobs and apprenticeships created, councils must be given a leading role to tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building.”
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail explained earlier this year just exactly why there’s a skills shortage in the industry.
“Lack of workforce planning, lack of investment and lack of employer engagement are big problems, and so too is bogus self-employment that’s rife within the sector,” she said. “The entire construction industry has become incredibly fragmented.
“When so much construction work is contracted and then further farmed out to subcontractors, the scope for having high-quality apprenticeships is much smaller,” Cartmail explained. “Agency work has begun to dominate the sector, and agencies don’t employ apprentices.”
Cartmail added that, unlike in many science, engineering and technology (STEM) fields, the construction industry has all but ignored the untapped potential of more than half of the population – women.
“The shortage of women in construction is a chronic problem. Many women have an interest in careers in the sector, but they’re often discouraged at schools, discouraged by their families, and, when they do start work in the sector, they aren’t supported at all in the workplace.
“Addressing the shortage of women in the field will go a long way in easing the skills crisis.”