Staff shortages and robotics among the issues facing construction in 2017

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An analysis has revealed a number of issues expected to face the construction industry during 2017, including staff shortages, a technological uprising and Brexit

Analysis from construction and rail recruitment consultancy firm One Way suggests staff shortages, a weak pound and robotics could be among the problems that will dog the sector this year.

Staff shortages

The shortage of skilled workers is hardly a new topic. The sector has given numerous warnings that there is a shortage of construction workers and this is expected to be exacerbated by the UK’s break from the EU. This issue will be further compounded by a significant number of staff retiring in the coming years without similar numbers entering the workforce, which will put added pressure on the industry.

One Way’s managing director Paul Payne said: “From our perspective this will be the big one. The number of skilled professionals operating in the industry dropped dramatically during the recession and now around 22 per cent of the workforce are in their 50s or 60s.

“Quite simply, there are too many people retiring and not enough entering construction to replace them.

“With more projects being given the go ahead we need to see greater focus on promoting careers to youngsters and professionals looking for a change of career before we hit a point where productivity is being affected.

“This needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

Payne added that Brexit could have a significant impact on workers, but what this will look like is unclear until negotiations are finalised.

“As has been incredibly well documented, no one really has any idea about what Brexit could entail or what sort of deal we’ll be left with once Article 50 has been triggered.

“However, if as expected, there are some changes to Freedom of Movement across the EU, then the likes of the construction industry which often relies on the skills of overseas workers, could be impacted by even worse skills shortages.

“Therefore increasing the numbers of people in the industry before this happens is more important than ever before.”

Weakening pound

The analysis comes on the back of the Markit/CIPS PMI and research from the Federation of Master Builders, both of which warned the depreciation of the pound is pushing up the costs of building materials. According to the FMB some 70 per cent of builders have seen the cost of materials increase.

“The strength of the domestic economy will naturally impact almost every field, but it could have a particularly damaging effect in construction,” Payne said.

“A weaker pound means that import prices rise and with so many of our raw materials being brought in from overseas, this could add significant amounts to the bottom lines of builders across the country.

“Currently, material costs are at their highest point in five-and-a-half-years and ultimately this could lead to them squeezing costs elsewhere, for example in staffing, or even having to pass on certain projects.”

Robotics

Technology could also be an issue for the year ahead, with the robotics sector expected to see growth in construction.

Payne said: “The growth of AI has been more widely documented in ‘sexier’ fields like technology and financial services, but it is also having an impact on construction.

“Over the past 12 months or so we’ve begun to see the use of drones and other tech like 3D concrete printers become more widely adopted and it will be interesting to see the role they play by this time next year.

“Many have suggested that their growth could lead to jobs being cut, but realistically anything like this happening is way off in the distance.

“For the time being, technology promises to make many of our jobs easier, rather than taking them away.”

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