OPINION: “Roofing is a great career, so why the skills gap?”

In the challenging years post-2008, the construction industry lost some great people and some great skills. Indeed, this pattern is historic; during difficult economic times, the construction industry is hit hard and loses key people as a result. Roofing is no exception.

However, as is ever the way, the industry is now experiencing a boom as part of the economic recovery. High rates of growth, particularly in house-building, is putting further strain on an industry which was already facing skills shortages. Following a very busy 2015, the whole sector is desperately short on the skills we need to keep up with demand.

A case in point is the fact that according to the Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI survey, the need for subcontractors is increasing at the fastest rate ever recorded. Not only is this putting strain on subcontractor availability, it’s also hiking labour rates up significantly. Ultimately this increased cost has to be paid for by someone, and sadly, it’s often the client and/or the contractor who have to absorb this cost.

Another indication of how the skills gap is impacting the industry comes via a survey from EC Harris, which shows that bricklayers in some parts of the country are commanding day rates of £250- £350. Anecdotally, we know that in some regions (particularly in the south) roofing operatives are attracting similar salaries. In real terms, some construction workers are actually earning more than traditional white collar professionals including doctors and lawyers. Whilst we firmly believe that skilled roofing operatives rightly command a salary that is reflective of their skill, we must acknowledge that these extreme skills shortages are pushing prices up; prices that must somehow stabilise if we want to safeguard the future strength and prosperity of our industry.

When it comes to roofing, the industry’s annual recruitment requirement is 44,430 operatives. However, this is expected to rise to over 46,000 by 2018. This is the amount of new roofers that the industry needs to recruit each year to account for both growth and churn rates. This would seem to present a slight issue: If we don’t have enough skilled people now, how are we going to attract yet more in the future?

The solution to this problem seems fairly straightforward. We have a supply and demand issue, so we just need to increase the number of people coming into the roofing trade. Simple, right? Here at Barclay Roofing, this is certainly a priority, and the statistics show that we’re not alone. A 2014 survey from The Federation of Master Builders’ shows that 20% of respondents had found difficulty recruiting skilled roofers. These findings are echoed by the NFRC. However, recruiting skilled roofing operatives is anything but simple.

Growing our own talent through the apprenticeship route is by far the best long term solution, and is something we are committed to. However, there are a couple of issues. Bringing an apprentice up through the ranks to the high standard we require takes time; time that we don’t have because the work is in the here and now. Training apprentices to the best standard is also fraught with practical difficulties, thanks in part to health and safety legislation that makes it tricky to get these young people onto a building site (it’s quite difficult, as you can imagine, to learn the trade without being able to get on site!).

Then there is the issue of attracting these young apprentices into the roofing trade in the first instance. For whatever reason, joinery, plumbing and electrical appear to be more attractive routes for many young people coming into the industry. In actual fact, roofing offers a fantastic long-term career. It’s well paid, offers good career progression opportunities for those who are willing to apply themselves, allows for the ability to move between other trades easily, and boasts a whole host of other perks. For us, apprentices and attracting ‘young blood’ into the business is the long term solution. And, although it’s not a simple fix, we believe there is every reason to be optimistic.

In the short term, though, we are always looking out for top quality, seasoned operatives in all areas; tilers and slaters, lead workers, flat roofers, joiners and carpenters, estimators, contracts managers and senior contracts managers. So, if you want to develop your career with a great business in a thriving industry sector, please get in touch and let us know via our enquires email address: enquiries@barclayroofing.co.uk. 

Paul Trelease

Managing Director