Scottish construction skills shortage ‘reaching crisis point’

construction-stockScotland’s construction industry is facing its greatest skills challenge as workloads continue to outpace availability of skilled professionals, a survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has revealed.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (63 per cent) to the latest RICS UK Construction Survey reported difficulty sourcing labour as an obstacle to growth. A similar number highlighted specific problems in finding bricklayers.

The findings bear out a warning sounded by Aberdeen building magnate Stewart Milne a year ago.

The founder and executive chairman of the Stewart Milne Group was concerned that a shortage of qualified tradesmen and women would threaten the upturn in construction.

While earlier this month, a report prepared on behalf of the Scottish Building Federation suggested confidence among employers in the construction sector had fallen back to levels of the first half of 2014.

Alongside the issue of labour supply, the RICS survey found that the availability of finance continues to inhibit the development pipeline with around three-quarters of respondents citing this as an issue, while 59 per cent said that regulatory and planning issues were potent constraints.

However, despite these challenges, the survey shows significant areas of growth, with the number of new construction projects in Scotland increasing, particularly in infrastructure and commercial sectors. A substantial proportion of respondents to the RICS reported an increase in their workloads (net balance +30 per cent).

RICS Scotland said growth in Scottish construction would only be sustainable if the continuing skills gap was addressed.

Sarah Speirs, director, RICS Scotland, said: “The availability of both blue collar and white collar construction workers is reaching crisis point. Without the relevant skills, we will not be able to grow many of the Scottish Government’s priority construction sectors such as infrastructure.

“Currently, while we know that there is a serious shortage of skills, we don’t yet know why we have seen such a dramatic drop in the labour market over the past five years. Part of the problem is the legacy of the collapse in the sector following the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. Many professionals and other skilled workers chose to leave the industry and quite simply have not returned or been replaced. A real focus on attracting more young people into the industry is critical alongside an expansion of apprenticeship opportunities.”

The infrastructure and commercial sectors continue to lead the growth in workloads with net balances of 32 per cent and 54 per cent respectively reporting an increase. However, momentum was least firm in the housing sector with net balances of 19 per cent and 17 per cent reporting growth in workloads in the public housing and private housing segments respectively. Meanwhile, the growth looks set to continue, with a net balance of 65 per cent of chartered surveyors predicting a growth in construction workloads during the next twelve months.

William Bowie MRICS, Doig + Smith Glasgow, added: “We continue to see increasing confidence in all sectors of the industry resulting in workloads continuing to rise. The availability of qualified professionals to match this increasing workload remains a challenge.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Skills Development Scotland has launched a plan for the sector to ensure it was recruiting and retaining talented workers.

“We will continue to work with bodies including the Federation of Master Builders to increase opportunities for employment in construction, improve how the public and private sector invest in young talent and ensure that Scotland has a skilled workforce across all industries,” she said.

“Over the last four years we have delivered more than 100,000 new Modern Apprenticeships and this will increase to 30,000 each year by 2020.”

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