Brexit and retirement driving skills shortage, experts warn

Housing leaders have warned the government’s ambitious targets for housebuilding will not be met – unless ministers tackle the growing skills shortage in the housing and construction sectors.

construction, building

A range of skills shortages from bricklayers and carpenters to planners and local authority housing officers are adding to the strain that the sector is under, according to experts.

A report by the Federation of Master Builders revealed small building firms where 59% have reported they are struggling to recruit bricklayers and 55% are finding it difficult to source carpenters.

Andrew Dixon, FMB head of policy, said: “These reported shortages have remained consistently high for years now, which would suggest the gap in the construction sector shows little signs of abating. We urgently need to see more people coming into the industry.”

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has forecast that 700,000 workers are set to leave over the next 10 years due to factors like retirement.

Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the Lyons Housing Commission, warned the industry’s traditional reliance on migrant labour – particularly from Eastern Europe – will have to change post-Brexit and firms would need help from the government.

“We simply are not able to fill that gap if those people choose to go home or are encouraged to leave,” he said.

Former Bank of England economist and member of the Redfern Review into the decline in home ownership, Dame Kate Barker, said uncertainty following the Brexit vote would have to be addressed with a clear strategy for creating housing jobs.

She told 24housing: “It’s not a surprise. No one policy can solve this.”

The skills gap is also a growing issue for local authorities who have merged housing and planning departments following budget cuts. New strategic heads of department replacing several directors may lack sector knowledge and be stretched too far to be effective.

Eamon McGoldrick, National Federation of ALMOs managing director, said: “For local authorities in particular, it’s a massive problem. You don’t see those people who have the experience that the organisation can benefit from.

“There are people managing a department as a hub called something like planning, regeneration and environment. It’s not a director of housing, you just get a corporate head.  There isn’t someone who can say ‘we stopped doing that 25 years’ ago because it didn’t work.’”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “There are various apprenticeships which the department is encouraging.”