Jobs’ worth?

The job losses by the end of the year could be as high as half a million in two years according to estimates that CPA chairman Adrian Barden used in his Autumn Lunch speech yesterday.

The really scary thing is that that figure isn’t anything like the whole picture of the numbers affected by the recession in the construction industry.

According to official figures, there are around 2.4million people employed in the construction industry,. But that figure doesn’t include merchanting, which seems to come under a different heading for the government.

Nor, naturally enough, does it include all those other industries and sectors which depend so heavily on housebuilding and a healthy rate of property transactions: solicitors’ conveyancing departments, removal men, estate agents, drivers taking goods from factory to building site, warehouse managers overseeing those same delivery schedules…the list goes on.

And manufacturing products which are used in the construction industry doesn’t count in terms of jobs as construction, they’re manufacturing jobs though they are no less at risk.

Some of the jobs that have been lost and which will continue to be lost as this recession continues will be replaced as things pick up. But others won’t. Some of those jobs are lost permanently thanks to the onward march of technology and the – perfectly reasonable – quest for efficiency.

A case in point is Hanson’s new £50m, state-of-the-art brick factory at Measham. Put into motion long before the downturn, this factory will achieve levels of efficiency that other, older and now mothballed plants could only dream of.

Launching the factory to the press, md David Syzmanski (a self-confessed ‘brick geek’ and, therefore, a man after my own heart) pointed out that ‘New Measham’ will employ 28 flesh-and-blood people to achieve a capacity of 100million bricks a year. When they closed Stewartby it took 221 people to get to the same number.

Whenever we get through this, things will have changed. Forever. The industry will have learned to do things differently, with fewer people. In some ways it will be better, in other ways probably worse. But different it will definitely be.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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