Do You Want the Good News First or The Bad News?
There’s been some mixed news for the construction industry in the first couple of weeks of this brand new year, some of it is good news and some bad, so let’s take a look at it.
The good news is that construction wages are going up at three times the rate of workers in other industries here in the UK. Plumbers are receiving an average of £533 a week according to new figures and plasterers and floor layers are being paid 8.4% more than they were this time last year.
According to recent research by The Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS), three in five construction professionals have disclosed a sharp rise in their wages. In fact average earnings in the construction sector rose by more than 6% last year while the national average increase was just under 2%. Plumbers, painters and glaziers have had an average rise of 7.7% while electricians only saw a 1.2% rise. Labourers’ wages working on building completion and finishing had a rise of 3.8% and experienced roofers’ wages have gone up by 3.1%.
While this seems like great news for those of us who work in the construction industry, there’s another side to the story. The sharp increases in pay are a result of a serious lack of skilled workers and companies desperate to hire a workforce for building projects are being forced to offer these attractive rates of pay as they struggle to recruit the workers necessary to get a project up and running.
Two thirds of chartered surveyors reported that they were struggling to recruit staff for building projects, with quantity surveyors and bricklayers being in particularly short supply here in the UK. Experts are warning that a serious skills shortage in the UK construction industry will result in the cost of building the new homes that we desperately need in Britain will soar and that projects are likely to be delayed. With the UK government expecting to build 200,000 affordable starter homes by 2020 labour shortages are likely to add to the costs. According to a RICS spokesperson, unless the government does something to address the situation its key housing and infrastructure programmes are likely to face spiralling costs and significant delays.
With industry wages looking attractive at present, now is the time to make a concerted effort to attract more young people to follow a career in construction. It’s also hoped that the boost in pay will serve to encourage skilled workers to return to the sector.
The Prime Minister recently announced the largest series of housebuilding projects for more than 30 years and committed an additional £1.2 billion to help developers detoxify brownfield sites to make space for housing.
While the extension of the apprenticeship programme may help to solve this crisis, more will need to be done to deliver solutions. A new skills strategy that enables educators, industry and unions to collaborate on solutions is vital and employers need to take a leading role in actively engaging with schools and colleges and provide more vocational pathways to work.