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Skills shortage in building trade persists

Much of the blame for the shortfall is being placed on schools

It is a well-documented fact that there is a huge shortage of new houses, and in particular, affordable properties, across the country. This presents a massive challenge for developers, as there is currently an alarming shortage of skilled workers to carry out all the work.

Bricklayers, carpenters and joiners are in short supply, not to mention the plumbers, electricians and plasterers needed to build all these new houses. Much of the blame for the shortfall is being placed on schools.

Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that schools are placing too much emphasis on academic achievement rather than informing young people of the exciting careers that can be had by taking an apprenticeship. Once trained, a good electrician or plumber can look forward to a really rewarding future, whilst large numbers of graduates struggle to find work.

Ten years ago, the construction industry went through a difficult time and people are understandably wary about starting a career in an industry which has been seen to be cyclical in the past. There is also a perception that an office job is a safer option and then there are those who don’t like the idea of working in the cold and wet.

Another consequence of the shortage of skilled tradespeople is the spiraling wages that workers can demand for their work. A developer embarking on a new housing project has to be sure that he has the workforce required to complete the job. This, added to the increases in the cost of building materials, is making profit margins difficult to achieve.

The government wants to see 300,000 new homes built, year-on-year, for the foreseeable future. This is an ambitious goal, as without sufficient numbers of skilled workers available to carry out the work, it seems unlikely that this target can be reached.

And then of course, there is Brexit. Both industry and the government have no clear idea of what the future holds. Currently, the construction workforce is being bolstered, to some degree, by workers coming from outside the United Kingdom, for example Polish builders. As economies in these countries improve, there is an understandable tendency for these workers to return home, particularly if there is real uncertainty about their welcome here in the future.

On the bright side, the collapse of the construction giant Carillion has presented the industry with a much-needed opportunity. What might have been a disaster is being seen by many as a real bonus. Small companies, currently crying out for skilled workers and apprentices now have a new pool to dip into, a much needed fillip for this trade-starved industry.

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