Despite a high rate of productivity over the course of the pandemic, the UK construction industry is not in the clear yet. 

Recent months have seen construction firms across the country struck by a shortage of materials, as well as a decline in the number of workers available. As prices for a wide range of building materials rise, firms are finding it increasingly difficult to make a profit – and things are set to prove even more challenging as the months tick by.

In their latest report, consultant firm EY warned that the number of profit warnings in construction and materials firms were at a five-year low during the first half of 2021. Although projects have continued thus far, the continued shortage of both materials and workforce, and general ill health of the supply line, could make things considerably worse for the second half of this year. 

A range of crucial building materials, particularly cement and timber, have become concerningly limited in supply due to the continued impacts of both Brexit and Covid-19. Orders of bulk cement have been constrained, despite the fact that kilns at UK cement suppliers are all fully operational – this is an issue whose source lies at the very heart of the construction industry and the wider global economy. Stock shortages, delivery delays, and steeply rising inflation, have all coincided with an increased demand for the materials themselves.

Inflation on materials has risen by 10-15% compared to 2020, but some individual products have been struck more sharply than others. The price of most timber products, for example, has risen by between 20-50%. Plastic products, roofing products, landscaping products, insulation and more, have all faced shortages, causing some suppliers to simply cease stocking certain products due to their lack of economic viability. Not only are fundamental materials harder to find and more expensive to buy – they aren’t affordable whatsoever.

This is a crisis hitting each and every element of the construction industry, and predictions are being made of project delays further down the line. Ian Marson, the construction leader of EY-Parthenon UK, warns that ‘cost inflation may put new projects at risk’, despite the fact that ‘existing projects are continuing’. The issue might be, he suggests, in funding and developing future projects, even though current ones are underway. He goes on to say:

 

‘Companies with inflation clauses in their contracts should be able to weather short-term price increases but if prices remain high and shortages continue, project delays may become inevitable’. 

 

So what might the solutions be? The initial answer would be to continue the drive for training and upskilling, to turn the tide against the falling labour force. Meg Wilson, the turnaround and restructuring strategist for EY-Parthenon, suggests that the way forward lies in the ability of firms to ‘strike a balance responding to current demand while defending themselves from potential problems’:

 

‘Businesses reopening or expanding trading are balancing the investment and costs needed to meet increased demand against the removal of government support and the potential for setbacks’. 

 

A cautionary approach, forward thinking, and sensible investment, then, is the way forward for an industry battling the trials and tribulations of a world still dominated by Covid-19 and the political developments of recent years. The industry is well-stocked with individuals who understand the challenges ahead. Whatever happens, we know only too well how the construction industry has weathered many storms over the last year. It is a resilient machine, and there is no doubt that, despite the difficulties ahead, it will emerge stronger than ever. 

Construction industry leaders have called upon the government to end self-isolation requirements as thousands of site workers are being wrongfully told to self isolate by the NHS app, in an issue being dubbed the ‘pingdemic’. 

Trading bodies including the CLC, the NBF, and the CBI, have lobbied the government to consider bringing forward the date at which double-jabbed workers no longer have to self-isolate, as the workforce dwindles at the hands of unnecessary technical errors. The current cut-off date is August 16th, but industry leaders argue that an earlier date is essential if the industry is to get back on its feet.

It goes without saying that the industry has been significantly affected by this. While Covid cases are indeed rising in number, and workers are having to legitimately self-isolate after having caught the illness itself, there are many others who are being incorrectly informed of their coming into contact with positive cases by the NHS app, and are having to needlessly remove themselves from their places of work.

This is causing great disruption to construction sites up and down the country, and some are even being forced to close resulting from a lack of available onsite workers. Richard Beresford, the chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, has commented on the extent to which sites have been impacted:

 

‘Every member we have spoken to has Covid-negative staff isolating. Some have had to shut sites due to a site manager’s or other key staff being pinged and no replacements available’. 

 

He warns that the very survival of some sites is at stake – a couple of weeks of closure could have severe repercussions in the current climate, and after a year of similar disruptions, there is a degree of vulnerability which could leave construction firms in danger of permanent closure.

Andy Mitchell, the co-chair of the CLC, also describes the heightened challenges faced by the recent difficulties, saying that ‘very significant pressure’ has been placed upon the construction sector as a result. He has heard ‘reports from across the industry of plants, sites and offices having to wind down activities as staff have been asked isolate’, factors which again could threaten ‘project delivery and even the viability of some firms’. It is ‘essential’, he warns, for the date to be brought forward from August 16th, to ensure ‘that the industry doesn’t grind to a halt’. 

There are other benefits to bringing the date forward, according to CLC. They argue that a nearer date would actually increase the number of people who are fully vaccinated across the population, as more people would want to reap the benefits of immunity and ensure that they are immune from the need to self-isolate. It would bring an overall advantage to both the workforce and the wider population. 

This development has arisen during the height of growing concerns about shortage in material supplies, which have been ongoing since the beginning of 2021. High demand, inflation and long lead times have led to a backlog in even the most fundamental of supplies, such as concrete and timber, and prices of materials have risen by 10-15% in the last year.

Even industry giants such as Morgan Sindall have borne the brunt of the hardship, and recently commented on the current shortages and isolation issues faced by the industry. But chief-executive John Morgan remains optimistic. ‘It’s there, but it’s manageable. I believe the shortages aren’t as much as they were a few weeks ago. We’ve had it worse in the past’. Although the company ‘are feeling’ the strain of the recent weeks, they expect the situation to improve in the month ahead when the number of fully vaccinated workers will have risen.

The construction industry has powered through admirably during the last year of lockdowns, obstacles, and disruptions of all kinds, to ensure that crucial work is able to continue. And no doubt it will power through again. Morgan Sindall themselves are a reflection of the surprising successes awarded to the construction industry in the face of such a challenging year; their half-year trading update predicts that they will ‘significantly’ surpass their 2019 results. Triumphs can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Another month to get through, another challenge to face. But industry leaders are forever inspired and hopeful that the sector will carry us through. There’s only one thing we can keep doing, and that’s inviting new workers into the field, helping them become qualified, and giving them the opportunity to jump on board. And that person could be you.

It only takes one call, one course, and one decision. Become a skilled tradesperson today – and never look back.

Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.

 

The moment we have all kept in the back of our minds has now arrived. As of July 1st, the shift has begun towards the end of the furlough scheme.

553,000 people have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, and the furlough scheme has undoubtedly been responsible for this number being as relatively low as it is. At its peak, 10 million people were benefiting from furlough, while the overall cost to the government has been a knee-shaking £66bn. 

As of April 2021, 3.4 million people were still on furlough, a fall from 5.1 million in January. This number is still declining – by the end of May it was at around 2.4 million, according to HMRC figures, and current estimates for June are between 1.3-1.9 million. 

This tapering of furlough means that, from July 1st onwards, employers must contribute 10% of their employees’ wages for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, while the government contributes 70% where it previously covered 80%.

Between August and September, employers will then have to raise their portion to 20% of employees’ wages, while the government’s input drops to 60%. As of September 30th, the scheme will end entirely, and employers will pay the full amount once again. 

This is causing anxiety to both employers and employees alike, for obvious reasons, and numerous questions are being raised. Will the economy be back on its feet enough to sustain paying full wages again? Is September 30th yet another arbitrary deadline which will inevitably be extended? Or is this the real deal? 

It seems pretty set in stone. PM Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are determined to make this the final chapter of furlough support, with Johnson commenting that, ‘on the basis of what we can see now in the data … we don’t think we’ll need to change’. After the previous four extensions, the government will be highly reluctant to venture for a fifth furlough. Unless something drastic happens, with a large rise in infections and further restrictions necessary, it seems that September 30th is the final full stop to furlough.

September 30th is, in the government’s eyes, sufficient time to give businesses a chance to reopen and get back on their feet, and to prevent the need for another extension. From then on, they’re by themselves – employers will have to decide whether to take full time employees, or to make them redundant, unless another extension is decided. But for how long can this game of cat and mouse continue? 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng adds to this sense of furlough finality, though tries to offer reassurance: 

‘The furlough isn’t simply being switched off. All we’re saying is that the employer should contribute something to the payroll, and then over time, over the next three months, the furlough will be taken away. It’s a difficult balanced decision to make, the furlough wasn’t going to last forever’. 

 

We knew this all too well, but the shock is still going to be heavy for a large number of people. Many business leaders believe that September 30th is an insufficient amount of time to be able to take on employees full time, and so the likelihood is leaning towards redundancy. Redundancy is becoming an inevitability for potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

Terry George, who owns the Mission night club in Leeds, as well as other hospitality venues, is fully anticipating having to make many of his staff redundant by the time September 30th arrives. ‘We can’t afford to pay people out of a pot that has no money coming in. We’re going to have to lose some staff’. 

What’s worse, is that we may have less time than it seems. September 30th might be the cutoff, but it’s perfectly clear to employers where things are headed. Every month between now and September is going to cost employers more money in wages – money that they don’t have. 

Redundancies will likely begin sooner rather than later, though perhaps not immediately. Hargreaves Lansdown personal finance analyst Sarah Coles has suggested that, although ‘they might not make anyone redundant on day one, their jobs will be under increasing threat as time goes on and government help is withdrawn further’. 

It might not be an instant change, then, but that’s not necessarily cause for hope. The possibility of a later redundancy is strong. The Institute for Fiscal Studies backs this speculation in their recent statement: ‘With the cost of keeping employees on furlough rising, we therefore expect to see rising redundancies over the summer even before the final end of the scheme.’ 

Realistically, there is only one way out of this. It is to embrace a change of career, to invest in your future and protect yourself from a crumbling job market. If you are still on furlough after all this time, and have not been able to resume work, the chances of facing redundancies are not slim. The next few months could see you out of work, and bereft of crucial government support.

But one sector of security, as proved by the stability of the last year, is the construction industry. Swathes of people have left their old jobs to begin afresh as a tradesperson, or have balanced retraining with their old job to supplement their falling wages. People have taken this time to upskill, to add to their employability, so that when things are back to normal, there is a career there waiting for you. 

The construction industry has survived first, second, third waves of lockdown. Trade work has still been able to continue despite restrictions, thanks to the efficiency and professionalism of its workers. The flexibility and adaptability of the industry has meant that crucial work has been able to go ahead. 

But what is clear is that construction work simply cannot be put on pause for long. Whether it’s large scale infrastructural work or domestic projects, people need tradespeople to keep working, to keep pushing through. Demand has not dwindled for a second, and has in fact continued to rise. Wages have not fallen, they have risen. Job vacancies have not been swallowed up, they continue to offer opportunities to workers. 

We need skilled, qualified tradespeople more than ever. And in the next three months, a career in construction might be the thing that makes the nightmare of the past year go away. All it takes is that burst of self belief, to take your future into your own hands, and not fall victim to furlough’s end.


Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.

 

The proposed furlough phase out over the next three months is causing trepidation and concern for workers and employers alike. September 30th will see all government furlough support come to an end, preceded by a three month process whereby employers are increasingly responsible for paying their workers’ wages. 

From September 30th onwards, employers will have to decide between taking on their previously furloughed workers full time, or making them redundant. It is becoming increasingly evident that the impact of this decision is going to fall heavier on a certain portion of the working population. 

People aged between 55 and 64 are currently the highest portion of the workforce who are still being furloughed. More than 1 in 4 of workers in this age bracket (26%) have had to remain on furlough for the duration of lockdown. And so in the latter half of this year, where redundancies are not only likely but inevitable, this group of workers will most likely feel the brunt of the impact. 

This situation has come about as the result of certain industries, such as hospitality and leisure, opening up sooner than others. These industries in particular have a large portion of young people working in them, and so most furloughed workers are in the older age brackets, and are now more financially vulnerable. Only 6% of currently furloughed workers are aged between 35-44, and 16% are aged between 18-34. The Resolution Foundation, who are responsible for conducting this study, explains: 

 

‘The rapid fall in furlough rates driven by the reopening of sectors like hospitality and leisure, which disproportionately employ younger workers, the age profile of over 1.5 million employees still on furlough is changing.’

 

Not only are older people likely to be unfairly impacted by changes to furlough, but even those still in work will have their wages cut significantly as redundancies take place. The Institute for Fiscal Studies anticipates that

 

 ‘Tens of thousands of workers will suffer a steep fall in income as employers react by making redundancies. It will mean big income losses for many of those who end up unemployed unless they are swiftly able to find alternative employment’.

 

The only other safety net beyond furlough is the universal credit scheme. But the government is conveniently planning a £20-a-week reduction in universal credit support in September, coinciding with the end of furlough. This double blow might leave even more people in jeopardy, without jobs or safety net. 

Of course, swiftly found alternative employment is not common at the best of times. Changing career at the drop of a hat is not something many people are forced to go through, and it can be a daunting prospect to say the least. But circumstances are looking likely to force perhaps tens of thousands of people in this direction. 



The construction industry, however, has been the lifeline that thousands of people have needed. It is perfectly suited to those people who are looking to make a fresh start, and as working prospects are squeezed once again, embarking on a career as a tradesperson has never been a better option. 

Access Training has seen a large number of people retraining and upskilling in order to continue working and have professional prospects beyond furlough. We have been retraining professionals for decades, since long before Covid, and know how to prepare people for long-term, fulfilling employment in the construction industry.

Among our previous students looking to embark on a new career path, we have had teachers, chefs, taxi drivers, lawyers, entertainers – a great range of backgrounds, professions, and ages. The reason for this appeal is quite simple: tradespeople have been able to continue working throughout the last year, despite lockdowns and all other kinds of obstructions. A great many construction projects have been able to go ahead, meaning that work has been able to continue whilst navigating restrictions. 

Demand for tradespeople has been consistently high, and so are wages. Again, the reasons are simple. Before the pandemic, the construction industry was already experiencing a skills shortage, meaning that work for tradespeople has long been plentiful and well paid. Brexit has meant that a considerable amount of the workforce from the EU have become unavailable, again opening up the opportunities and strong need for more tradespeople from the UK. 

Covid has only continued this high demand for skilled tradespeople, and the construction industry has since become a beacon of hope for those out of work, or whose prospects on furlough are not looking promising. It is not looking to change anytime soon, either, with large-scale building projects scheduled for the next decade all across the UK. It is widely documented that wages and working opportunities are rising. 

In short, now could not be a better time to retrain in the construction industry. If you have a head on your shoulders, are good with your hands and problem solving, then a trade might be the career you’ve been looking for all your life. 

If the warning signs ahead are anything to go by, then furlough is not going to provide a happy ending, and may leave you in a vulnerable position. Use the remaining time ahead to prepare yourself for the worst, and invest in a new professional direction. You’ll never look back.

 

Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen. 

 

 

Over the last year, millions of people across the country and the globe, have been forced to take their working lives into the home. Life under lockdown has meant that the home has taken the place of the office, with staff having to retreat to their living quarters. Leaving your work at the front door has long been impossible. It goes without saying that this has brought its various challenges, obstacles, and situations to adapt to. 

It might not be a stretch to suggest that our boilers have felt this added pressure more than any of us. At first glance, there might not seem to be an immediate connection between increased time spent at home and the conditions of our boilers. But the surprising truth is that hours and hours spent working from home have given our boilers quite a job to do. 

Hometree, a boiler, heating and home cover specialist, has reported a 12% year-on-year increase in boiler breakdowns over the winter of 2020. 

An important consequence of working from home has been that millions of homes have required heating for many more hours of the day. Throughout the winter lockdowns this is especially true, with some homes needing heating during the entire day while they work. 

Kemley Sellars, a spokesperson from Hometree, has noted: 

‘the additional usage [of boilers] whilst working from home has meant increased wear and tear.

It really highlights the importance of having your boiler serviced in the coming months, ensuring that it’s working for next winter where many may have transitioned post-Covid to working from home more often’.

 

What does this mean for gas engineers? Firstly, it’s that they were in particularly high demand over the winter period, after months of increased boiler usage led to these boilers breaking down. It shows us that, even during a lockdown, during a pandemic, boilers are ever more essential than they always have been. 

Secondly it shows us that gas engineers will continue to be in high demand this year, as the public are being made increasingly aware of the importance of having your boilers serviced annually. Hometree offered some important advice to their customers and readers, one piece of which was to ensure an annual service by a Gas Safe Registered engineer. This increased awareness of the importance of servicing your boiler will put many engineers in work over the coming months. 

It’s highly important to make sure that your boilers and radiators are in full working order at this time of year. During winter time, low temperatures can cause standing water in pipework to freeze. Not only this, but having your boiler breakdown at the time of year when you need it most is the last thing you need. 

Thirdly, this information shows us the increased likelihood of gas engineers being in even higher demand as the years go by. Thousands of people are likely to have found the convenience of working from home to their liking. The ease of this new model, which some studies are suggesting to be more productive and efficient than working from the office, might be difficult to leave for many. 

We could be witnessing the beginning of the end of the office as the dominant working environment, meaning that our boilers are going to have to put up with this increased usage on a long term basis. This is only a good thing for those looking to get into the industry; it will secure an already rising demand for skilled workers and qualified tradespeople. 

Boilers will always need servicing, replacing, maintaining; but now, as our need for them is increasing due to these unprecedented times, demand for qualified gas engineers is only going up.

It’s a career for the future. It’s a career for life. 

 

Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen. 

 

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