A skills shortage in the UK’s construction sector has driven up costs for small firms, as an industry-wide survey reveals the struggles faced by business owners to fill positions.
The Federation of Master Builders’ (FMB) “State of Trade” survey, assessing the last quarter of 2016, revealed that almost half of small construction firms had struggled to hire roofers, while a skills shortage in qualified electricians and plasterers reached a four-year high.
An industry skills shortage had already affected bricklaying and carpentry companies in recent years, and the survey’s latest results found that it had begun to hit the 13 other trades and occupations that the FMB monitors.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB warned that the skills shortage added to the growing list of burdens for small firms in the construction sector.
“This growing skills deficit is driving up costs for small firms and simultaneously adding to the pressure being felt by soaring material prices linked to the weaker pound,” he said in a statement.
At the end of 2016, some 70 per cent of business owners told the FMB that they had experienced an increase in the cost of materials in the six months that followed the EU referendum in June, caused by rising import costs and the decline in sterling.
Berry added that the government needed to acknowledge the skills shortage and, in light of Britain’s exit from the EU and the potential end of free movement of European wokers, ensure that a pool of skills remained accessible for small businesses.
“Our sector relies heavily on skilled labour from the EU, with 12 per cent of the British construction workforce being of non-UK origin. As the construction industry represents around seven per cent of UK GDP, it’s in no one’s interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system,” Berry said.
Berry concluded that a strong construction sector driven by small firms would be vital in reaching government targets for new house building, due to be set out in its housing white paper on January 30. It is expected the government will pledge to build 1m new homes by 2020.
The news of a skills shortage in the trade industries follows recent research from jobsite Indeed that highlighted the difficulties encountered by small UK businesses in finding qualified IT professionals to protect from the threat of cyber crime.
Since 2014, the gap between demand for IT workers and the number of candidates increased by five per cent. Indeed’s European market economist, Mariano Mamertino, said that the skills shortage represented “a wake-up call” for Britain.
Revealed: The best UK regions to become a tradesperson
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.