building site construction

Major boost for construction industry as workforce multiplies

The construction sector in the UK has faced some hurdles in recent years, but the number of people employed in the industry just took a positive turn.

Research published by IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect has revealed that the construction industry is on track for a rebound over the course of 2022.

The data, compiled using Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, shows that there was an increase of 21,000 people employed in the sector at the end of 2021. This marks the largest rise since 2009, and is a sign that things are about to pick up across the UK.

The increase brings the total number of people working in construction in the UK to 455,000. This is also a 5% rise since September last year, which is significant, says Dominick Sandiford, managing director at IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect.

Plenty of opportunities

Sandiford comments: “This trend looks set to continue, as there are still 50,000 vacancies for jobs in the industry (December to February 2022), which is the most since records began in 2001.

“Furthermore, workers are also benefiting from record levels of income, with the average weekly earnings in construction reaching £691. This is up £3 from the previous data, and the highest on record.

“Earnings in the electricity, gas and water supply sector also rose, from £749 in December to £753 in January. This is up £3 from the same period last year.”

He also points out that the number of hours worked dropped only slightly in recent months, from 35.3 in October to December to 35.2 in November to December. But this is still a decent mark-up on the 32.2 average hours worked in 2021.

“Furthermore, for women in the construction industry, the typical number of hours worked actually rose,” Sandiford added. “Between November and January, the average was 29.3 for female workers – up slightly from 29 between October to December.

“This all suggests that UK construction is set for a positive spring and summer, and with the cost of living and inflation rate soaring, this will be welcome news for many.”

Construction in the housing sector

When looking at housebuilding in particular, performance has been a mixed bag, but there are certainly signs of optimism. Overall, the industry proved its resilience over the course of the pandemic, overcoming many supply and staffing issues along the way.

A report earlier this month from Sirius Property Finance showed that there was an 8% surge annually on new home planning consents, bringing them to 319,000, which was the third highest annual total since 2007. This is likely to have a significantly positive impact on housing construction.

A separate survey by WhatHouse? also showed that almost three quarters (71%) of housebuilders are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead.

The survey also showed that 73% of builders predict material shortages, particularly in bricks and timber, will be key concerns for 2022.

A scarcity of bricklayers and plasterers was another issue flagged up in the survey. 67% in the housebuilding sector think that these obstacles will hamper the supply of new housing stock, as well as planning constraints and logistical issues as a result of Brexit.

The Russia-Ukraine effect

According to an article by Henry Clarke, construction partner at Spencer West, the conflict in Ukraine has “reinforced competitive pressures in the UK construction market”.

He says: “Up to 43% of the EU’s oil comes from the Russian Federation, along with up to 25% of its oil. The medium to long-term nature of the conflict in Ukraine, and related sanctions means fossil fuel supply and its vulnerability will be an issue for the construction industry for some time.

“High fuel prices may be a stimulus to at least non-OPEC oil and gas production, but perhaps not generate enough additional oil and gas flow from existing non-OPEC sources to reduce prices to pre-invasion levels.

“This means energy costs in producing construction materials and for direct use in transport and on construction projects may remain high generating an inflationary trend within construction.”

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