Fears raised over building sector’s ‘skills time bomb’

A general view of construction cranes on the London skyline.  Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A general view of construction cranes on the London skyline. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
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BRITAIN’S construction sector is facing “a skills time bomb” which could lead to major building schemes being delayed, it was claimed today.

Researchers from professional services firm KPMG conclude that more construction workers are needed to deliver the planned increase in the Government construction pipeline.

Richard Threlfall, KPMG’s UK head of infrastructure, building and construction, said there was an acute shortage of skilled labour, and warned that “it is not yet clear” whether the industry will be in a position to deliver the Government projects due to start by 2016.

The KPMG report - UK Government Construction Pipeline - analyses 3,148 projects with a total value of around £128bn which are being procured by central and local government. The study says that 84 per cent of the projects included in the pipeline - 2,656 - are expected to have been started by 2016. This includes 1,279 projects which are reported as being already under construction. Yorkshire has a project pipeline of 185 schemes, with a total value of £3.2bn, the report says.

By 2016, almost 88 per cent of the region’s infrastructure projects, which have a total value of £1.7bn, are forecast to be under construction. Yorkshire and the Humber’s most significant projects relate to flood defence, road upgrading and further transport investment.

Brian Berry, the chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “KPMG’s report is yet further evidence of the growing construction skills crisis. This time last year, only 27 per cent of SME construction firms were struggling to recruit bricklayers, that figure now stands at a sizeable 42 per cent, according to our latest state of trade survey. For carpenters and joiners, the figure has nearly doubled over the past year, with 23 per cent of firms reporting issues in Q4 2013, and 44 per cent of firms now saying these tradespeople are hard to come by. We’re also seeing a rising and significant shortage of roofers, plasterers and site managers. The FMB is working closely with Government on its apprenticeship funding reforms, to ensure they do not negatively impact on the number of young people entering the construction industry. We’re also involved in initiatives which aim to attract experienced workers, such as ex-army personnel into construction. Government and industry must pull as many levers as possible if we are to extinguish the skills time bomb.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said: “Through industry designed apprenticeships and employer-led training, we are giving leading construction firms of all sizes the power to develop the workforce of the future.

“The Construction Leadership Council is also examining how the sector can engage more effectively with young people and address skills challenges”.