How to Step Up Housebuilding Output When Skilled Labour is in Short Supply

Harsh reality is starting to bite when it comes to the availability of skilled construction workers. According to ONS data, in London alone more than 60,000 bricklayers, builders and carpenters have left the industry in the last two years.

Since the third quarter of 2018, the number of EU-born construction workers in the capital fell from 115,000 to 53,000. This bleak picture is being replicated across the country and comes on top of the effects of an ageing workforce and the relative lack of young people entering the industry.

The Home Office isn’t currently showing any enthusiasm for relaxing UK entry requirements for people with much needed construction skills. So, in a nutshell, any building projects that are heavily reliant on skilled labour should be considered high risk. Even where labour can be sourced there has to be growing uncertainty over costs.

Where Will New Homes Come From?

The ‘Build Back Better’ agenda has ambitious aims for new construction in healthcare, infrastructure and education. There will be even greater competition for skilled workers at a time when the nation needs to build over 300,000 new homes each year.

So let’s think about those homes for a moment. We haven’t completed new homes at that rate for decades. Even if skilled labour were abundant it would still be a challenging target. Something has to change urgently. And that something needs to be the way we build.

Speed and Standardisation are the Ways Forward

Procurement teams shouldn’t just be more open to MMC, they should be actively embracing it. Now is the time to include building methodology in their requirements and bid scoring.

Skilled labour availability is one of the biggest risks in any new house building project – and MMC is much less reliant on skilled building trades. It’s also much easier to scale up production and productivity in a manufacturing environment than it is on traditional building.

There are significant opportunities to de-risk projects, improve quality and drive down costs through standardized products and repeatable processes. A significant increase in the use of MMC is now essential as the industry emerges from the effects of the pandemic and attempts to drastically increase output.

With a long-term shortage of skilled labour, increased output and productivity can be achieved in a factory environment. Hopefully procurement teams that want to reduce costs and increase output, while increasing certainty on housebuilding projects will recognise the reality we face.