Construction skills shortage ‘reaching crisis point’ in East Anglia

Heather Blemings of Gipping Homes, which faces a shortage of bricklayers.

Heather Blemings of Gipping Homes, which faces a shortage of bricklayers. - Credit: Archant

The skills shortage in East Anglia’s construction sector is reaching “crisis point”, according to an expert survey, with the region ranking as the worst affected in the country.

The latest Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) UK Construction Survey reveals that labour shortages are now the most significant constraint on growth for construction firms in the East.

Almost 70% of those questioned reported a lack of available workers, with quantity surveyors and bricklayers in particularly short supply across the region.

Stuart Coy, a quantity surveyor at Ipswich based Playle & Partners, said: “The skills shortage started during the recession when training and development was struck off the list of priorities and skilled workers left the industry. “As a result, we are now in a situation where the sector is booming but future growth is not sustainable because there are not enough people to do the work. It’s a worrying situation to be in which could have a catastrophic impact on the local, and national, economy.”

Heather Blemings from housebuilder Gipping Homes, based at Baylham, near Ipswich, said the lack of bricklayers in particular was holding up project work in Suffolk and beyond.

“The skills shortage in construction threatens the Government’s pledge to build 275,000 affordable homes by 2020,” she said. “The work is there for the taking. There is just nobody there to do it.”

RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said: “The availability of both blue collar and white collar construction workers is reaching crisis point. We haven’t witnessed a labour shortage of its kind in nearly 20 years. “A real focus on attracting more young people into the industry is critical alongside an expansion of apprenticeship opportunities.”

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Last year the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) forecast that 224,000 builders would be needed over the next five years to meet demand.

Earlier this month, a £3.75million training centre opened with the aim of tackling the worsening skills shortage in the East Anglia construction sector. The launch of the new facility, on the Norfolk campus of Easton and Otley College, comes after the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) invested £2.5m in the scheme, hoping to treble its number of construction students. Dayle Bayliss, who runs Dayle Bayliss Associates, based at Bentley, near Ipswich, and sits on the New Anglia LEP Skills Board, said: “Movements like this should help overcome a growing shortage of skilled workers which threaten the industry’s ability to meet demand.

“We desperately need to encourage the next generation of bricklayers, carpenters and electricians to join us and see construction as a viable and attractive career proposition.”

Framlingham construction company Robert Norman Construction, is also among the businesses struggling with supply and demand. Construction director Bob Page said: “Those workers who are currently in post are bearing a huge burden of massive growth in workloads yet no resources to manage it. “Like many companies we are placing a real focus on attracting more young people into the industry. But we all need to do our bit to attract fresh talent.”