FMB survey highlights skills gap fears

SME building firms are continuing to see rising workloads but problems with skills shortages and recruitment are just getting worse.


The latest workload survey of members of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), which seeks to represent the SME sector, found that in the three months to June 2015 members’ workloads continued to experience rising activity as more firms reported higher workloads. The net balance for overall workloads remained in positive territory for the ninth consecutive quarter, increasing by nine percentage points to +28, the highest reading since Q3 2004. Approximately 42% of firms reported higher workloads, up from 39%, while around 15% of businesses registered lower workloads, down from 20% three months earlier.

FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “There can be no doubt that the building industry is booming but the skills shortage continues to loom large over our industry. Almost half of construction SMEs are struggling to recruit adequate numbers of bricklayers, with others finding it increasingly hard to hire carpenters and joiners, site managers and supervisors. Looking ahead, our members are reporting that their workloads are likely to rise over the coming three months which means the shortage of skilled workers will only become more acute. It also begs the question, how much stronger would the pace of growth in the UK construction industry be if we had an ample supply of skilled tradespeople?”

He continued: “The government is determined to increase the number of apprentices being trained by our industry over the coming five years but the recent announcement on the new levy has led to more questions than answers. In the summer budget, the chancellor announced that the government would be introducing a levy on large employers to fund three million high quality apprenticeships. The budget statement said that ‘the levy will support all post-16 apprenticeships in England’ and if this also includes the construction industry, the assumption is that the CITB levy will not continue.”

Mr Berry concluded: “However, we are still unclear regarding the details surrounding this new alternative cross-industry levy. If the levy on large employers is only used to fund apprenticeship training by large employers, how will apprenticeship training by small firms be dealt with? Given that two-thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by micro firms, it’s vital that we have a system in place that drives high levels of apprenticeship training through companies of every size. We are keen to work closely with the government over the coming weeks – the stakes couldn’t be higher so we must get this right.”