Small firms in construction need support

The construction sector has been growing for a couple of years, but small and medium sized (SME) companies are hitting blockages thanks to a major skills shortage, according to representations made to me by the Federation of Master Builders.

It says almost half of construction SMEs are struggling to recruit bricklayers, with others finding it hard to hire carpenters, joiners, site managers and supervisors.

As their order books fill, the shortage of skilled workers will worsen. If there were an ample supply, growth and therefore jobs would be bigger for everyone’s benefit.

The Government aims to increase the number of apprentices in the next five years but the federation is worried about a new levy on large employers to fund three million high quality apprenticeships. This is supposed to support all post-16 apprenticeships in England but they fear that the current Construction Industry Training Board levy that benefits them will be scrapped.

I share their concern that if the levy is only used to fund their apprenticeship training by large employers, small firms could lose out, although these micro-companies train two-thirds of all construction apprentices.

At the election I pledged to make a priority of filling the skills gap and increasing the number of quality apprenticeships. I will be pressing the Minister to make sure that reasonable intentions are backed up correctly and small firms are protected.