closing the skills gap is key to construction growth

With growing concern that the skills shortage in the construction industry could hinder further growth, David Cassell, training manager at Marley, discusses what impact it is having on the roofing and cladding industry and what actions could be taken to try and bridge the skills gap

Following a long period of economic instability, the construction industry has experienced a boom this year, with high rates of growth, particularly in housebuilding. This has put further strain on an industry which was already facing skills shortages.  Following a busy summer period, the need for sub contractors has expanded at the fastest rate ever recorded, according to the Markit / CIPS UK Construction PMI survey. This has put immense strain on subcontractor availability and bumped up labour rates significantly.

The latest labour rate survey from EC Harris shows that bricklayers in some regions are commanding average day rates of £170 to £180 and anecdotal evidence suggests that roofers in the south are getting paid similar day rates. In fact, Bracknell Roofing reports that they have seen labour rates for roofing subcontractors rise by between 30 to 50% this year alone. 

The Federation of Master Builders’ State of the Trade Survey (Q3 2014) found that 20% of respondents had found difficulty recruiting skilled roofers. These findings are echoed by NFRC who report that many of their members are extremely busy and really need to find more skilled workers. Even the larger roofing contractors we see at our training centres are experiencing difficulties sourcing enough skilled labour.

George Challinor, from Bracknell Roofing, explains: “Since the end of last year, there has been a huge upturn in the availability of roofing work, with not enough skilled labour to meet demand, which is having an impact on many roofing companies. While we have introduced apprenticeship schemes throughout the Group, these will take time to come to fruition. The problem is that due to the lack of work between 2007 and 2012, we lost a generation of recruitment into the industry. This means that now we have young people coming into the sector on apprenticeships and many skilled older people but with a significant skills gap in between.”

A similar situation has occurred within joinery and carpentry. We have noticed that joiners and carpenters were amongst the first trades to be effected by job cuts during the recession. Sometimes, in an effort to cut costs, general builders or DIY enthusiasts would attempt the work of a skilled joiner themselves and this obviously impacted on the work available.

When it comes to roofing, the industry’s annual recruitment requirement is 44,430 roofers a year, but it is expected that this will rise to 46,200 by 2018 (Construction Skills Network Blueprint for Construction 2014-2018). This is the amount of new roofers that need to be brought into the industry every year in order to account for both growth and churn rates from retirement and people leaving the industry. So how will we recruit so much additional skilled labour when we don’t have enough to do the work at the moment?

As Kevin Taylor, Technical and Training Manager from NFRC explains: “The skills shortage is not a new problem, this happens after every recession when a lot of people have left the industry. If the roofing industry can be confident the work is there, then I am sure we can get more people into training and into the sector. There is already significant momentum behind training and qualifying the workforce in the UK roofing industry and this has improved significantly. There is a long way to go, but a lot to be optimistic about also.”

NFRC has been working with the CITB and employers in Scotland to develop a new special apprenticeship programme aimed specifically at Roof Tiling for New House Building which has generated over 900 applications to be apprentices. This will also be rolled out to the rest of the UK. Marley already has six apprentices working at our Keele and Burton factories and a further eight working for Marley Contract Services. Many contractors, like Bracknell Roofing, are also running their own apprenticeship schemes with support from the CITB.

This will help to address the medium to long term skills needs of the industry but what about the immediate need now?  Kevin Taylor explains: “NFRC has developed a Specialist Upskilling Programme for Slating and Tiling (NVQ Level 2) which would suit those experienced people who have been out of the industry for a few years. It would also enable good labourers to become roof tilers for instance.”

Manufacturers like Marley also have their part to play. For example, we launched our Cedral installer roadshows last year to expand the skillset and to address the increase in demand for confident, knowledgeable cladding installers. In the last 18 months, we have trained more than 500 installers and have 40 roadshows planned for 2015 where we’re expecting to train another 600 installers.

In addition, we have already provided training for hundreds of construction professionals this year at our training centres and NFRC is currently working to see whether manufacturer training courses like ours might be converted into modules, which can be accredited towards NVQs. This could help with the training that is needed to fill the immediate skills gap.  Furthermore, the apprenticeships on both our manufacturing and contracting sides of the business are helping to attract the younger generation back into the industry.

Yet more still needs to be done to educate school and college students about the career and salary benefits of a skilled trade. It takes years, not weeks, to train skilled tradespeople and we need to ensure there is a good pipeline of young people coming into the industry and also provide retraining opportunities to fill the immediate gap. The whole construction sector is facing huge potential for growth but without the skilled people to carry it out, it won’t be able to maximise the opportunity.

To learn more about Marley's training support, visit:

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BS 5534 Presentation - 'Understanding the changes to the British Standard for slating and tiling'

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