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Bricklayers in short supply, survey suggests

Words: Laura Edgar
Bricklaying / Shutterstock_401474689

Nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) of construction UK SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers, a survey by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has suggested.

The State of Trade Survey for Q2 2019 also suggests that 54 per cent of small and medium-sized construction firms are having difficulty hiring carpenters and joiners.

The survey, which has 281 responses, also found:

  • There has been a decrease in employment levels among small construction firms for the first time in more than five years, with 21 per cent of survey respondents reporting a reduced workforce.
  • Workloads for SMEs grew in comparison to Q1 2019, with 27 per cent of employers reporting higher workloads than in the first quarter, when 22 per cent reported they had more work.
  • Material prices will increase over the next six months, according to 77 per cent of builders.
  • Higher workloads are forecasted over the next three months, according to 37 per cent of respondents, down from 41 per cent in Q1 2019.

Construction industry bosses have reported they are reorganising their workforce in preparation for a potential downturn, with higher levels of sub-contracting alongside lower levels of direct employment.

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, attributed this change in how firms are employing their workers is a result of several years of uncertainty regarding Brexit.

"The construction industry has always used a significant proportion of subbies, but the fact that direct employment is decreasing points to Brexit nerves among construction bosses. This is the reality on the ground of what happens when years of uncertainty are inflicted on the construction industry. Furthermore, apprenticeship training has taken a hit as construction bosses are reluctant to take on young people when they can’t be sure of future projects going ahead.”

According to Berry, there is also fear that using more sub-contractors can lead to a drop in build quality.

"Direct employees, who are well-known to their firm, are much more likely to follow the ethos of their company and build to the right standard. If construction bosses are trying to protect their businesses by employing more subbies, they might not always know how good these subbies are. Rebalancing the workforce may seem like a good idea at the time, but it could lead to reputation-damaging mistakes. If a downturn is on the horizon, reputation is everything and construction employers can scrutinise the quality of their workforce far more easily when they’re on the books.”

State of Trade Survey for Q2 2019 can be found on the FMB website (pdf).

Read more:

SME workloads drop, survey suggests

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