Trade surveys find businesses are continuing to suffer from skills shortages

A number of industry surveys for the first quarter of 2015 have pointed to shortages in specific areas of labour that could stunt further growth in the construction industry.

Separate market surveys from the Construction Products Association (CPA), Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have all confirmed that companies across the sector are finding it difficult to hire skilled workers.

According to the RICS Construction Market Survey for Q1 2015, labour shortages are becoming ‘increasingly burdensome’, with 63% of surveyors reporting skills shortages have blocked growth in the first three months of the year. Bricklayers and construction professionals (including quantity surveyors) were found to be in shortest supply, with 67% and 65% respectively reporting difficulties.

This was reflected in the FMB’s State of Trade Survey for the same period, which found that 50% of firms were finding it difficult to source bricklayers in particular. While not as marked, around one in five firms also claimed to be struggling when trying to hire roofers.

The lack of available skilled workers is particularly worrying as these surveys all expect workloads to increase throughout the rest of 2015. The RICS study found that confidence in the growth outlook for the year remains strong despite General Election uncertainty, with 79% of its respondents expect workloads to continue rising over the coming 12 months.

The CPA’s Q1 State of Trade Survey 2015 also found 69% of heavy side product manufacturers and 57% of light side product manufacturers reported that they anticipate sales rising over the coming year. Similarly, 45% of respondents to the FMB’s survey project higher workloads over the next three months.

The ongoing performance of the private house-building sector, which has long-been considered a main driver in the resurgence of the construction industry, is thought to be most at risk from skills shortages. However, financial constraints are also beginning to become an industry wide issue. The FMB says the next six months will see rises in output prices, wages and salaries, and material costs, while 55% of respondents to RICS’s survey claim these issues are already blocking growth. In fact, 59% say they are seeing their costs rise, with only 52% reporting growth in output prices.

This is reflected among product manufacturers, with 81% of heavy side manufacturers and 77% of light side firms reporting to the CPA that concerns over the availability of skilled workers, wages and salaries were the key driver of cost inflation in Q1. These issues have been offset by developments in the global economy, such as the impact of lower oil prices resulting in smaller fuel prices.

Alan Muse, director of the built environment at RICS, said: “Despite the outward optimism, there are some very real unknowns which are impacting on industry, including the General Election, the UK’s relationship with Europe and skills shortages.

“The practical challenges are in providing the skilled labour the industry needs and in alleviating the financial constraints, which saw nine months of decreased lending in 2014.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, added: “To ensure we have an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, the next Government must ensure it sets the righ

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