Construction industry prepares for a downturn

Construction industry bosses are reorganising their workforce in preparation for a potential downturn, with higher levels of sub-contracting and lower levels of direct employment, claims new research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). There was a decrease in employment levels among small construction firms with 21 percent of employers reporting a reduced workforce. Workloads for construction SMEs grew with 27 percent of employers reporting higher workloads.

Bricklayers are the trade in shortest supply with 60 percent of construction SMEs struggling to hire these tradespeople and 54 percent struggling to hire carpenters and joiners. 37 percent of construction SMEs are forecasting higher workloads over the coming three months, down from 41 percent in Q1 2019.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Years of Brexit uncertainty have resulted in construction bosses starting to change how they employ their workforce. To ensure their firms are ready for any economic shock-waves later this year, employers are reducing their number of direct employees and relying more on sub-contractors who are easier to shed if work dries up.”

“The construction industry has always used a significant proportion of subbies but the fact that direct employment is decreasing, points to Brexit nerves among construction bosses. This is the reality on the ground of what happens when years of uncertainty are inflicted on the construction industry. Furthermore, apprenticeship training has taken a hit as construction bosses are reluctant to take on young people when they can’t be sure of future projects going ahead.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Years of Brexit uncertainty have resulted in construction bosses starting to change how they employ their workforce.”[/perfectpullquote]

Berry concluded: “Worse still, the fear is that using more subbies can lead to a drop in the quality of our builds. Direct employees, who are well-known to their firm, are much more likely to follow the ethos of their company and build to the right standard. If construction bosses are trying to protect their businesses by employing more subbies, they might not always know how good these subbies are. Rebalancing the workforce may seem like a good idea at the time, but it could lead to reputation-damaging mistakes. If a downturn is on the horizon, reputation is everything and construction employers can scrutinise the quality of their workforce far more easily when they’re on the books.”

Full findings listed in State of Trade Survey for Q2 2019