Where are the bricklayers?
We all do now seem to recognise that there is an obvious housing crisis in the UK. Not enough homes are being built. For many, the fault lies with the planning system for not delivering enough land. Others, blame the house building industry, for controlling the supply of new homes coming onto the market. Increasingly, the lack of a skilled workforce is now being seen as a major issue. So, just where are the bricklayers?
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) forecast in 2015 that an additional 224,000 builders will be needed up to 2020. In the wake of the crash almost 300,000 workers left the building site. Packing up their trowels and hods, they left to find new careers.
The Federation of Master Builders report that 2 out of 3 builders turn down work because they can’t get the staff. A recent RICS survey suggested two thirds of industry professionals believe that labour shortages among such as bricklayers represent the biggest barrier to housing growth.
For those that can find the labour, the shortage is pushing up wages. Increases of 6% for the year up to October 2015 represented a wage rise at three times the average for UK workers.
The Government have pledged to build more. But 600,000 consented homes apparently remain unbuilt. The number of new starts remains well below the pre-recession levels around 2007. Most in the industry see little prospect of delivering the target of 250,000 homes per year.
Predictably house builders will continue to blame the planning system. Councils are certainly not free from blame. The builders themselves continue to manage the market, as you might expect. However, without a concerted effort to attract young people to the industry and greater incentives to offer training we will continue to see skill shortages and a lack of homes built despite the availability of sites.
The Government called for more action by industry earlier this year. The then Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said:
“…thousands of jobs are now up for grabs and we’re determined to make sure that there are enough skilled workers to get the job done. …we need to build a new generation of home grown talented, ambitious and highly skilled construction workers.”
Let’s hope the new Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has more than just kind words to help get people into the industry.