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Two thirds of UK building companies turn down work

 ‘Desperate need’ for apprentices is key factor behind skills shortage

New research has revealed the extent of the current skills shortage in the UK building industry – with 66 per cent of small construction firms admitting they have been forced to turn down new business due to this lack of resource. Almost half have been forced to outsource work to third parties rather than leave work unfinished.

The survey, conducted by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), reached out to its membership of 8,500 small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms, revealed:

  • London has the biggest shortage of bricklayers and carpenters
  • The East of England is in short supply of plasterers
  • Northern Ireland has the greatest need for general labourers
  • West Midlands based firms need more scaffolders

The main reason cited for this widespread shortage is the difficulty in finding apprentices. Respondents 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.

Skilled trade Primary shortage region
Bricklayers London
Carpenters and Joiners London
Plasterers East and South East
General Construction Operatives/Labourers Northern Ireland
Plumbers East
Roofers South East
Painters and Decorators London
Electricians London
Tony Passmore, CEO Passmore Group, said: “The lack of experienced multi-skilled workers is a huge concern for my business, as it could affect our future growth plans. 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.”Nic London from N London Ltd said: “There’s definitely a great opportunity for apprentices right now. I entered the industry as an apprentice myself, and I haven’t looked back. The starting salaries are much higher than many people expect and there is a great capacity for career development. In the past we’ve developed apprentices who have moved on to start their own businesses.”

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.”

Further information on construction industry apprenticeships can be found online via the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) website.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is the largest trade association in the UK construction industry representing thousands of firms in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FMB is a source of knowledge, professional advice and support for its members, providing a range of modern and relevant business building services to help them succeed. The FMB is committed to raising quality in the construction industry and offers a free service to consumers called ‘Find a Builder’.