Housing targets threatened by skill shortages, warns FMB

Gordon Nelson
Gordon Nelson

Plans to alleviate Scotland’s housing crisis could be threatened by increasing shortages of bricks and bricklayers, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has warned.

The Scottish branch of the trade body said workloads among small construction firms north of the border remained positive, but flagged a severe lack of carpenters, joiners, plumbers and site managers.

FMB Scotland director Gordon Nelson said attracting skilled workers is becoming a “chronic problem” for construction SMEs and that the Scottish construction sector needs to re-focus its efforts on attracting new entrants, particularly experienced workers and the next generation of construction apprentices.

Mr Nelson said migrant labour could help in the short term but a much wider pool of skilled labour is required if the housing crisis is to be tackled.

Commenting on the results of the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey for Q1 2015, Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “How to solve the housing crisis has been one of the hot topics during this General Election campaign and we welcome the renewed focus on house building by all the main parties. Although each party has its own distinct plans for how the next Government should boost house building, all of them agree it must be a priority. However, the results of our latest State of Trade Survey expose continuing threats which could undermine their plans.”

“Half of all construction SMEs – that’s one in two firms – are finding it difficult to recruit bricklayers. 62 per cent of firms are waiting for up to two months for new brick orders while almost one quarter are waiting for up to four months. An additional 16 per cent are waiting for a staggering six to eight months. The brick manufacturers are working hard to reignite their kilns which were mothballed during the recession. However, in the meantime, let’s make sure small local house builders are not overlooked in favour of large house builders when it comes to manufacturers meeting requests for new bricks.”

Mr Berry added: “In terms of skills, the ever-growing lack of bricklayers is causing concern. Compared to this time one year ago, more than twice the firms are reporting difficulties recruiting these tradespeople. In the short term, many SME house builders may have to rely on migrant labour. To ensure we have an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, the next Government must ensure it sets the right framework in terms of apprenticeship funding and apprenticeship standards. Also more construction firms – large and small – need to willingly engage with training. After all, there’s strong evidence to suggest that training apprentices is good for business.”

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