Organisation warns of ‘twin perils’ facing UK construction industry


ACTUATE UK has warned of a potential ‘winter of discontent’ for the construction industry later this year due to a combination of skills shortages and long Covid.

The alliance of building engineering services said the sector should remain vigilant and urged businesses and government to start planning now for the potential fallout.

Actuate UK highlighted data from a new survey which raises questions about the ability of the UK construction sector to return to pre-pandemic activity levels.

According to the YouGov poll commissioned by Actuate UK members, in the year to May 2021, across all members of staff, small to medium-sized construction firms each lost an average of 29 days every month from staff absent from work. This figure excluded people on furlough – and Actuate UK says the situation will get worse as businesses go under or are forced to operate on much-reduced capacity, with key projects either delayed or coming to a costly halt.

Fiona Hodgson, CEO of Actuate UK member SNIPEF, said, “As the restrictions ease, Actuate UK urges industry to strike a balance when considering the health of its workers and the need to move the economy forward. This survey gives us grave concern about the long-term effects of Covid on our industry. Building services are the lifeblood of all major construction projects, with heating, lighting, ventilation and digital infrastructure essential to successful project delivery.

“Yet we continue to hear from members there are simply not enough skilled installers to meet current demand and we are deeply concerned this will impact on government targets and future projects.”

Actuate UK says that with a ‘significantly reduced workforce’, it won’t be possible to keep pace with demand for construction activity, with key projects at risk of suffering.

Fiona Harper, director of employment and skills at Actuate UK member SELECT, said, “We’re hearing first-hand accounts of construction firms being unable to recruit skilled staff, despite full order books. And this is only the start. The pandemic has had repercussions for training, with the number of new entrants coming into some areas of construction declining. The difficulties of gaining practical experience, along with reduced numbers in many key areas, has also taken its toll.”

Although vaccination can help guard against the initial impact of Covid-19, sufferers can experience symptoms caused by long Covid, potentially preventing them from returning to work.

Ms Harper added, “While life may return to ‘the new normal’ for many in the coming weeks and months, for others, the long-term impact of the pandemic will remain a very real barrier to work. The knock-on consequences of this and the skills shortage could be all too real for individuals, businesses and the economic recovery itself, so it’s vital that we factor in contingency plans and take steps to protect our workforce.”

Commissioned by Actuate UK members ECA and the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), the YouGov survey canvassed opinions from 2,000 businesses of up to 249 employees.