More trades facing skills shortage and Brexit will increase crisis further, warns FMB

The construction industry's skills crisis is growing with more trades including roofers, plumbers, electricians and plasterers now as difficult to recruit as bricklayers and carpenters, reveals the latest research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), who fear the problem could increase further following Brexit.

The FMB’s State of Trade survey for the final quarter of 2016 shows that almost half (46 per cent) of SME construction firms are reporting difficulties hiring roofers, while shortages of electricians and plasterers are also at their highest point in four years.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “We’ve been experiencing a severe shortage of bricklayers and carpenters for quite some time – these latest statistics show that skills shortages are now seeping into other key trades such as roofers and plumbers.

"Indeed, of the 15 key trades and occupations we monitor, 40 per cent show skills shortages at their highest point since we started to feel the effects of the skills crisis in 2013 when the industry bounced back post-downturn."

With FMB members reporting that the growing skills deficit - alongside soaring material prices due to the weaker pound - is driving up costs, Berry also fears the crisis could get worse following Brexit and is calling on the Government to put a system in place for free movement of labour in the construction and housebuilding sectors.

He says: “The Government needs to be taking note of the worsening construction skills shortage now that we know that the UK will be negotiating a hard Brexit.

"The Prime Minister must ensure that the immigration system that replaces the free movement of people serves key sectors such as construction and house building. 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.”

However, with the SME construction sector experiencing 15 consecutive quarters of growth, there was a positive end to the year with construction SMEs reported steady growth in the final three months of 2016, says Berry.

"In particular, demand for private refurbishment work was robust throughout 2016 and in terms of private and social house building, builders expect workloads to grow in the first three months of 2017.

"However, if the Government wants the objectives of its Housing White Paper to be realised, it will need to ensure the construction sector has the skilled workers it needs to build these new homes.”

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