Silver lining of skills gap burns bright for lucky few

One of the benchmarks of the UK economy’s performance is the housing market. In recent years, that market has not only flatlined, but lenders (via the FSA) have rammed a stake into its heart, to boot.

After the economy collapsed, we had the Mortgage Market Review. This resulted in the FCA implementing responsible lending guidelines to ensure the banks didn’t err to such an extent again.

Lenders dutifully adopted the practices within the new law, even if it meant higher deposits and ostracising many potential homeowners for not having perfect credit ratings.

Buying a home is back on the to-do list

It’s taken a monumental effort to kick-start construction after the 2008 collapse and ensuing back-to-back recessions. But the economy has begun to recover.

Initiatives like Help-to-Buy have lowered entry level. And once construction firms grasp the concept of truly affordable housing, it will grow some more.

That the housing market reflects the economy makes absolute sense. When times are tough, putting food on the table beats looking for a new home hands down.

Yet in more prosperous times, people feel empowered. Moving up the property ladder gets a space back on the to-do list. When it becomes a priority, it’s a sure sign that the homeowners in question are doing well.

That synergistic feelgood factor is indicative of confidence. Potential homeowners need to trust both in the economy and in their own job security.

There were the peaks of the housing boom…

We’re getting back to that stage again. The market today reflects a period of transition, shifting from famine to feast. Okay, maybe not feast. A starter to go with the main course, if you will.

But the economy’s left its scar on the construction industry. It takes a team of skilled workers, from concept to completion, to build a home.

It’s difficult to explain unless you were there. But at the housing market’s peak in 2007, construction firms couldn’t build homes quickly enough.

The cost of houses was spiralling higher and higher. Yet home buyers were paying those prices, mortgage lenders dotted lines became a blur and transferring credit to make loans affordable was a cinch.

Bricks and mortar seemed like a sure-fire investment to everyone. Property was a fast-track elevator of increasing value that seemed as if it would never stop rising.

…and then the trough

Then, pop! The bubble burst, the economy went into meltdown and one of the first casualties was the housing market.

Construction companies laid contractors off in their droves. Overnight, learning the skills needed to become a tradesman lost its appeal. And while the housing market stayed flat, that was okay. Not good, but no one was getting hurt. Too much.

Fast forward to earlier this month and the NSCC‘s State of Trade bulletin. It’s reflects what’s happened in the UK this last eight years or so in the construction industry.

47% of those questioned by NSCC relayed one simple truth: they’re struggling to hire skilled workers in 2015.

A negligible percentage disagreed in the study, just 2% saying that they’d found it simpler to hire the right people. But that swing of 45% between those who could and those who could not hire the right people tells a tale. It represents the widest gap between those markers since 2001.

This lack of expertise is not only frustrating for the firms who would be hiring. Nearly one in three contractors were unable to apply for jobs advertised as their own skill set wasn’t up to the mark.

The skills shortage isn’t the best situation for the government at the start of their tenure, either. They’ll want to see a housing market that can support the nation’s economic recovery.

The potential is there. Almost two-thirds of respondents forecast growth in demand in the run up to summer. An astonishing three quarters of firms expect an upturn before the year’s out. But who’s going to fill those work boots?

Time to lay foundations for Britain’s future

NSCC’s chief exec, Suzannah Nichol MBE, has warned that a lack of investment in training will see the market stall. That move has got to come as a joint initiative from the industry, the government and educational bodies.

There is, in the meantime, a silver lining. Those who possess the construction qualifications necessary already can begin rubbing their hands.

April’s REC/KPMG Jobs Report highlighted accelerated pay growth as one of the month’s key points. Whilst temporary billings slowed, there was still growth. The report also indicated an eight-month high in permanent appointments.

These all exhibit signs of firms paying top dollar to get the right staff, either on a temporary basis, or even permanent if the contractor’s work’s worth the severance pay to the agency.

So, do you have the skills for the construction sector but have maybe never thought about contracting? Through an umbrella company, you can dip your toe in the water.

Many contractors begin at an umbrella before going whole hog and branding themselves as their own limited company. If contracting’s not for you, signs are in the current market that there’s a permie job in the wings for those with the right qualifications, anyhow.

Now, it’s time to start making the right connections, to bolster those qualifications. Why limit your opportunities, when you can begin laying the foundation for your own future?

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