Skills shortage forcing UK building firms to turn down business

Two thirds of small UK building firms are being forced to turn down business due to a lack of bricklayers, carpenters and plasterers, new research has revealed.

Skills shortage forcing UK building firms to turn down business

A survey, conducted by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), has found 66% of UK small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms admitting they have been forced to turn down new work, citing the difficulty in finding apprentices as its main reason.

Almost half have been forced to outsource work to third parties rather than leave work unfinished.

The survey also found London has the biggest shortage of bricklayers and carpenters in the country, while the East of England is in short supply of plasterers.

Northern Ireland has the greatest need for general labourers, and West Midlands based firms need more scaffolders.

Respondents (146 from business owners within the building industry within the FMB) claimed the lack of apprenticeships is the primary reason they believed potential candidates have been held back from joining the industry, followed by pressure from parents to stay in full-time education.

Experts have estimated the industry needs around 35,000 new apprentices just to cope with demand, however in 2013, only around 7,000 apprentices completed their training.

For the 16-24 age group, perception of low wages was another significant factor in deterring interest in the trades – however, the FMB’s research shows that by the age of 23, a bricklayer with five years’ experience can earn up to £31,000 and rising in some cases to £52,000 in London.

Tony Passmore, CEO Passmore Group, said the lack of experienced multi-skilled workers is a “huge concern”.

“We urgently need tradespeople that are trained in more than one area, such as plumbing, tiling and joinery for bathroom installations – but we just aren’t seeing the candidates come through,” said Passmore.

Hayley Ellis, FMB director of training and membership services, said: “We’re aware that there is a desperate need for new apprentices to join the construction industry. Apprenticeship schemes offer a balance of technical skills and workplace experience, so school leavers can learn on the job and hone their skills – and build a really meaningful career.”

“We’d encourage those receiving their GCSE results tomorrow who feel unsure of what to do next to properly explore their options and consider the building industry – particularly through apprenticeship schemes. The construction industry offers fantastic earning potential and a whole host of exciting careers.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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