Perception versus reality

Glass Times editor wonders if the market is as bad as everyone thinks it is.

News in this morning, as a general election is called: builders remain nervous about hiring due to continued political uncertainty.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Master Builders, small building companies remain nervous about hiring new staff and are reducing the size of their workforce.

The press release I received was littered with angry-looking percentage points, all used to illustrate the damaging effects of political uncertainty. Despite the apparent good level of work (34% reported high workloads compared to 27% in the previous three months), 19% predicted lower workloads, up from 12% in the previous quarter.

Furthermore: 86% of SMEs anticipate a rise in material prices, up from 77% in the previous quarter; 56% of firms predict salaries and wages to increase, up from 51% in the last quarter; and 56% of SMEs reported difficulties hiring carpenters and joiners, overtaking bricklayers as the trade that is hardest to recruit. 

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Stagnating staffing levels is a concerning sign, and if this trend continues, we could see the capacity of the industry shrink at a time when builders are needed more than ever. Skilled workers are scarce in the construction industry, and it is critical we keep people employed in the sector. The fact that SME firms are having to lay people off and are holding off taking new people on is worrying.”

I remember covering this phenomenon about ten years ago, when the effects of the credit crunch started to bite. We saw firms all the way through the construction supply chain lay off staff, while other skilled workers decided driving taxis was a better alternative to the uncertainty they faced. (Note the terminology in the FMB press release: ‘predict’ and ‘anticipate’).

What differs this time around is that our relationship with Europe has changed, and we can no longer guarantee that gaps in our workforce can be filled by European workers when the uncertainty is replaced with positivity.

I find it frustrating because anecdotally things don’t appear to be as bleak as most published reports make out.

Take, for example, the news released by the organisers of the glazing summit saying that more than half of those attending the networking event in September thought the state of the market in 2019 is no worse than 2018, with 24% of visitors saying it was better.

And what about the new solid roof fabricator launched in Taunton because there is an evident gap in the market?

I know these examples on their own don’t counter surveys conducted by the FMB and others, but when fear can drive uncertainty just as much as a tangible drop in work, it is worth stepping back viewing the bigger picture.

As always, I would like to hear your views on the matter.