UK faces bleakest construction skills shortage in nearly 20 years

The latest RICS UK Construction Survey shows that the country’s skills shortage has reached its highest levels since the survey was launched 18 years ago, with bricklayers and quantity surveyors in shortest supply. Over half of respondents (53%) reported difficulty sourcing labour, with 71% saying they had particular difficulty sourcing bricklayers and 64% highlighting a shortage of quantity surveyors.

During the same period in 2011, just 1% of respondents were struggling to find bricklayers and only 15% noted a shortage of quantity surveyors.

In addition to labour supply, 69% of firms said that financial constraints, such as access to credit, were among the biggest constraints to growth, while 60% said that regulatory and planning issues were potent constraints.

However, despite these challenges, the survey shows significant areas of growth, with the number of new construction projects increasing, particularly in private housing and commercial sectors. While official figures (which are often subject to revision) highlighted a slight contraction in output over the three months to August, a substantial proportion of respondents to the RICS reported an increase in their workloads (net balance +39%), with 29% of firms saying that they were operating at full capacity.

The private housing and commercial sectors continue to lead the growth in workloads with net balances of 47% and 46% respectively reporting an increase. However, momentum was least firm in the public sector with net balances of 12% and 21% reporting growth in workloads in the housing and non-housing segments respectively.

Meanwhile, in the infrastructure sector, growth accelerated somewhat with a balance of 34% seeing workloads rise, up from 25% last quarter.

RICS Chief Economist, Simon Rubinsohn commented on the survey “While it’s exciting to see that the UK is experiencing growth across the construction sectors, future growth will only be sustainable if the growing skills crisis is addressed. The availability of both blue collar and white collar construction workers is reaching crisis point. We haven’t witnessed a labour shortage of its kind in nearly 20 years. Without the relevant skills, we will not be able to grow many of the Government’s priority construction sectors such as infrastructure.”

“Currently, while we know that there is a serious shortage of skills, we don’t yet know why we have seen such a dramatic drop in the labour market over the past five years. Part of the problem is the legacy of the collapse in the sector following the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. Many professionals and other skilled workers chose to leave the industry and quite simply have not returned or been replaced. A real focus on attracting more young people into the industry is critical alongside an expansion of apprenticeship opportunities.”

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