Construction Sector 'Skills Gap'

22 October 2015, 06:51

Scotland's construction industry continues to face a skills shortage as workloads are outpacing the availability of qualified professionals, according to a survey.

Almost two-thirds of respondents said a difficulty in sourcing labour was as an obstacle to growth and a similar number highlighted specific problems in finding suitable numbers of bricklayers.

Despite this, the latest construction market survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) showed the number of new construction projects in Scotland increasing, with about 30% reporting an increase in workloads.

Overall, 65% of chartered surveyors predicted a growth in construction workloads during the next twelve months.

But Sarah Speirs, director of RICS Scotland, said that while it is "exciting'' to see the Scottish construction market experiencing growth, it will only be sustainable if the continuing skills gap is addressed.

"The availability of both blue collar and white collar construction workers is reaching crisis point. Without the relevant skills, we will not be able to grow many of the Scottish Government's priority construction sectors such as infrastructure,'' she said.

"Currently, while we know that there is a serious shortage of skills, we don't yet know why we have seen such a dramatic drop in the labour market over the past five years.

"Part of the problem is the legacy of the collapse in the sector following the onset of the global financial crisis.

"Many professionals and other skilled workers chose to leave the industry and quite simply have not returned or been replaced.

"A real focus on attracting more young people into the industry is critical alongside an expansion of apprenticeship opportunities. ''

The survey revealed the infrastructure and commercial sectors continue to lead the growth in workloads with net balances of 32% and 54% respectively reporting an increase.

However, momentum was least firm in the housing sector as 19% and 17% experienced growth in workloads in the public housing and private housing segments respectively.

Scottish Labour's Iain Gray said: "While the SNP government boast about their apprenticeship programme, it is clear that there are just not enough apprenticeships in key sectors like construction.

"We also know that Scotland needs almost 150,000 engineers by 2022 and if we want our economy to continue to grow we need to fill that gap.

"Yet this year saw a fall in pupils coming out of school with Higher passes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. We will pay a price in lost opportunity for the Scottish Government's complacency.''

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Construction has an important role to play in Scotland's economic future, with Skills Development Scotland launching the Skills Investment Plan (SIP) for the sector earlier this year.

"This industry-led work is looking at how we remove barriers in the recruitment of traditionally under-represented groups and ensure the sector is attracting and retaining talented workers. We will continue to work with bodies including the Federation of Master Builders to increase opportunities for employment in construction, improve how the public and private sector invest in young talent and ensure that Scotland has a skilled workforce across all industries.

"Over the last four years we have delivered more than 100,000 new Modern Apprenticeships and this will increase to 30,000 each year by 2020.''