With Theresa May’s pledge to personally take charge of fixing the housing crisis in the UK still ringing in our ears we should all be feeling more positive. The government is attempting to tackle financing and planning restrictions and is even looking at freeing up more land, previously protected, for house building. However, although things are looking optimistic for the industry there is still a very dark cloud looming overhead.
One of the largest threats the housebuilding sector is facing today is the ongoing skills shortages challenging all areas of the construction sector, which the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) recently described as 'critical'.
Although the number of job opportunities in construction continue to rise, the number of suitable candidates isn't, as more than half of employers are finding it difficult to fill skilled vacancies, especially in the areas of quantity surveyor, bricklaying and joinery, all of which are essential to the housebuilding sector.
Indeed, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that more than 36,000 new workers a year will be needed to cover current demand alone and if demand grows so will the need for more suitable candidates.
So, why is there a skills gap in the construction sector?
There is no one reason why the skills gap is being felt, however many of the causes can be traced back to the recession.
The construction industry suffered greatly when the recession hit as housebuilding and major construction projects stalled and nearly 400,000 jobs were lost. Immediately after the recession many workers decided to leave the sector and many employers elected to stop or slow down their recruitment of trainee construction staff, which has always been a primary route into a career in the sector. Indeed according to figures by the Department Innovation and Skills Figures there has been a significant 55% decrease in the number of completed apprenticeships in the construction sector since pre-recession statistics.
The result has been a 4 - 5 year gap when the industry failed to train new workers and when you add this to the fact that the construction sector is experiencing an ageing population we are left with more skilled workers leaving the industry and no one to replace them.
The impact Brexit will have on employment within the sector is still to be decided, however many fear it could potentially decrease the EU workforce in the UK, again crippling the housebuilding and construction sectors who rely heavily on foreign workers.
Ultimately, if Theresa May is to make good of her promise she will have to start with the basics and ensure that there are enough workers available to build the 300,000 homes she wants built annually, especially as Steve Wood, chief executive of the NHBC, recently said that a lack of bricklayers was one of the biggest problems impacting housebuilding and to build 300,000 new homes a year would require something like an additional 25,000 bricklayers.
In the end, the industry and the government will have to work together to solve the problem and will have to look at many new and varied solutions, such as Steve Wood’s suggestion that new methods of building houses - such as modular units put together in factories before being moved to construction sites - would have to be promoted more rapidly.