The Government is in danger of failing to meet its affordable homes pledge according to local authorities that have warned skills shortages are threatening the Government’s house-building and infrastructure ambitions.
A new report from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, claims the number of skilled entrants to the construction industry has fallen behind the rest of the economy, with only 100,000 construction workers being unemployed – the lowest number on record.
It also found that the total number of construction qualifications – from vocational education, apprenticeships and higher education – has also fallen. There were 58% fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009, while over half of skilled trade vacancies were hard to fill, which is almost triple the proportion of skilled hard to fill vacancies across the economy as a whole
According to the LGA, while the construction industry’s forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54% from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities. The ‘Skills to Build’ report also claims there were 58% fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.
The combination of the construction industry’s growing demand for skilled workers and the reduction in available qualifications is leaving the sector stranded without the skilled employees needed to deliver on the Government’s ambitions for house-building.
Councillor Peter Box CBE, chairman of the environment, economy, housing and transport board, said: “Local government is right behind Government’s ambition to ramp up house-building and to create jobs and apprenticeships, but we are concerned inefficiencies in our skills system will simultaneously scupper both ambitions.
“Frankly, our economies do not have the skills to build. This is a concern for industry, for Government, for communities and for families. Widening skills gaps have big repercussions for growth, and miss crucial opportunities for helping the unemployed gain the vital skills the economy actually needs.”
The LGA says the construction industry’s forecasted annual recruitment needs have increased for the last three years consecutively, up from 29,050 a year in 2013, to 44,690 a year from 2015. This means more than 223,000 more workers will be required by 2019 across the UK to deliver the industry’s forecasted growth, including in the house-building sector.
The Government has set out the ambition to build 275,000 affordable homes over the parliament, which is already well above the level of completions measured in recent years. Between 2010/11 and 2013/14, a total of 204,000 affordable homes were built in England, however a third (29%) fewer affordable homes were built in 2013/14 than in 2010/11. If this rate of current building continued, just 215,000 affordable houses would be built over the parliament
It has also pledged to achieve the fastest rate of home building in 20 years. Total house-building completions have increased marginally following a large fall during the recession, but fewer houses are being built than before the recession. In 2014/15 125,000 houses were completed, compared with 170,000 completions in 2007/08. According to these figures, house-building is already sliding backwards, with the pre-existing shortage of skilled workers threatening to grow and limit any further recovery.
The LGA is therefore calling on the Government to work with the construction industry, councils and education providers to develop a national ‘Skills to Build’ strategy to solve the growing shortage, which would be delivered locally through the devolution process.
The association says councils are uniquely well placed to connect developers with the education and skills system, matching supply and demand and help resolve the widening construction skills gap.
Cllr Peter Box added: “Industry is clear that skills gaps are one of their greatest barriers to building. 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.
“Councils are best-placed to understand the needs of their residents and local economies but have no influence over skills training and employment support in their area.
“In return for increased funding and powers, councils, schools, colleges and employers could work together to reduce unemployment, close this widening construction skills gap and ramp up house-building.”
The Local Government Association’s ‘Skills to Build’ report can be read here.