Bricklayer Shortage In UK
Coming To US – Or Is The Shortage Already Here?
The article points out some interesting facts regarding the current building sector economy in UK.
There is something to be learned here – – –
It appears they let the supply of tradesmen and specifically BRICKLAYERS fall behind the needs of the industry
January 1, 2016 1:40 pm
Where have all the bricklayers gone?
A bricklayer repairs a wall in Ashford in southern England April 30, 2013. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is forecast to win council seats in Ashford for the first time in local elections on Thursday, a success that is expected to be partially repeated nationwide as the anti-EU party taps public disenchantment with the three main parties.
It is a puzzle that goes to the heart of some of the problems bedevilling Britain’s recovering economy: where have all the bricklayers gone?
Cranes tower over cities such a London and Manchester as building projects resume, but construction companies are finding it increasingly hard to find bricklayers and other skilled workers. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors says labour shortages in the sector are the worst for almost 20 years.
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Because they are scarce, good bricklayers can now command about £150 to £170 a day. Rising labour costs mean London’s biggest construction contractors are increasing their prices and turning down half of all bidding opportunities in the capital.
Businesses of all types are beginning to fret about skills shortages now unemployment has sunk to pre-crisis levels and labour is less plentiful. Many blame poor vocational training in Britain, which is one reason the government has announced a compulsory levy to fund 3m apprenticeships by 2020.
Yet construction companies already pay a levy to fund training, administered by the Construction Industry Training Board. So why is their sector the one where skilled workers seem in shortest supply?
Part of the explanation lies in the volatility of construction work, which lurches from boom to bust with the economic cycle.
House building plunged 65 per cent between 2007 and 2009 as the economy fell into recession; almost 300,000 jobs disappeared. Rising wages in the construction sector have not been enough to lure all those workers back.
“The market has come back to a certain extent, but if you have moved into a different sector, or to a different country, where activity has picked up quicker and is more stable, it is questionable whether you would come back,” said Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association. “You know that at some point in the future there will be another recession, which is still in people’s minds. Are you willing to be burnt again in a few years?”
The other problem is that too few young people are becoming bricklayers in the first place. The shortage of recruits is odd, says the Brick Development Association, given that roughly 2,000 young people left college last year with a technical certificate in bricklaying. The BDA says many of them failed to find jobs in construction after they left college and drifted into something else.
This highlights the mismatch between the training colleges provide and the skills employers need, according to unions and contractors. It is a problem that extends beyond construction: businesses, schools, colleges and politicians all agree the links are too flimsy between the worlds of education and work.
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Michael Walsh, managing director of Swift Brickwork Contractors, which employs about 500 people, says too many college bricklaying courses waste young people’s time.
“You may be in a workshop building pieces of walls and having theory lessons, but you learn your trade on the job, not in a classroom,” he said. “It’s a shame because it’s the kids that come short-changed out of this, they’ve wasted two or three more years of life and their earning capacity’s no greater than if they’d come to us at 15.”
The College of North West London is home to some of these classrooms and workshops. Sand crunches underfoot as students learn how to build structures with special cement that can be scraped off so the bricks can be re-used. Andy Cole, the principal, says the college does offer multi-trade courses to 16-18 year olds that take place entirely in-house, but he says these are for people who are not yet ready for the workplace.
He says the best training requires collaboration with employers, such as level 3 apprenticeships where young people learn predominantly on the job but study at college for one day a week. Mr Cole’s college works with some construction companies to deliver apprenticeships such as these.
“You can’t expect to take out of the industry without putting something back in”
– Michael Walsh, Swift Brickwork Contractors managing director
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Yet if apprenticeships are the answer, there are surprisingly few of them taking place, especially given that construction companies pay a levy to fund training.
A recent report from Ofsted showed the number of construction apprenticeships has remained relatively flat over the past decade at about 20-25,000 a year, while apprenticeships in “business, administration and law” have grown from about 40,000 to almost 140,000 a year.
“Apprenticeships in our industry are in crisis,” said Barckley Sumner from UCATT, the construction union. “The basic problem is that employers don’t want to train anyone. Most major employers don’t employ anyone, so if you don’t employ anyone, you’re not going to train anyone.”
UCATT says large construction companies often rely on overseas workers to meet demand and tend to classify people as self-employed to avoid the costs and responsibilities of being an employer.
Yet there are indications that employers are starting to respond to the lack of skilled workers by investing more in the next generation. The Construction Industry Training Board says construction apprenticeships are on the rise. Swift Brickwork Contractors hires 15 to 20 apprentices each year. “To me it’s about an investment in our future,” said Mr Walsh. “You can’t expect to take out of the industry without putting something back in.”