When the Prime Minister announced England’s latest lockdown measures, there was at least some good news for construction workers.
Exempting them from the general instruction to work from home wherever that is possible, the latest guidance states:
“To help contain the virus, everyone who can work effectively from home must do so. Where people cannot do so (for instance people who work in critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing) they should continue to travel to work/attend their workplace. This is essential to keeping the country operating and supporting vital sectors and employers.”
In a correlating move that’s considered vital for the construction industry to keep flowing, Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick also confirmed that builders’ merchants and distributors can remain open for business and that tradespeople will be allowed to enter homes.
Where companies are struggling to keep going at full capacity, there is the option of using the furlough scheme for employees (which has been extended until December) and HMRC has a separate support scheme available for those who are self-employed and whose work is adversely affected by the restrictions.
Whilst all of this helps the industry survive the pandemic in the short-term, longer-term predictions of job losses in the sector paint a gloomier picture of things to come.
According to the most recent CITB Construction Skills Network report for 2021-25, the workforce is predicted to shrink by between 10% and 14% as a result of the pandemic, largely due to a drop in demand for both commercial building and private housing. That’s a prediction which could affect between 286,000 – 372,000 workers.
As well as the human cost for people’s livelihoods, it’s thought that pre-Covid workforce levels might not be reached again until around 2025, making it very difficult for the industry to deliver pipeline projects that would support targets around infrastructure, new homes and zero-carbon.
In response, the industry’s training body, the CITB is calling on government to make construction a priority sector in the new National Skills Fund, a move that would help address skills shortages by ensuring the industry can recruit, train and retrain fresh talent.
The CITB also wants reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy which could allow large employers to pass on surplus Levy funds to smaller companies in the supply chain and is asking for a new traineeship for construction to be launched in early 2021.
So, right now the construction industry seems poised at something of an intersection – lucky that it can continue to be productive through the current restrictions but facing a future where a great many people and businesses are likely to experience the ongoing negative impacts of the pandemic.
We wish everyone in our sector all the very best of fortunes during this lockdown, over the course of this winter and for the years that follow.
Feature image: tiko_photographer/Shutterstock.com