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Welcome rebound in construction output as the sector enters “bytes and mortar” revolution

Commenting on the latest ONS construction output figures, Marc Jones, Director of Operations at UK leading specialist recruiter Acorn said:

Marc Jones, Acorn Recruitment

With Brexit exacerbating the skills crisis, the construction industry has a key role to play in building the foundations of our future economy, figuratively and literally.

After a broadly negative start to 2018, it’s a relief that UK construction output rose by 2.9% in May, when economists had been looking for growth of just 0.4%.

The latest figures, released this week (10thJuly) by the ONS, also reveal that this month-on-month rise stemmed from increases across all types of work, and that despite a weak first quarter, the overall construction output remains 30.3% above the level seen in May 2013.

This rebound echoes the positive results of the latest survey from IHS Markit and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, which shows that June has seen the largest upturn in buying construction materials in two-and-a-half years – exceeding expectations yet again.

We have the blue skies and dry weather to thank for helping builders back to work after the heavy snow, but some persistent issues such as low productivity and delays in project delivery still need to be addressed.

This data also comes at a time of unease for the UK currency and politics. Amid Brexit turmoil, prices keep rising and this week’s resignations have left our Prime Minister with her biggest challenge yet. With so many uncertainties still linked to the UK leaving the EU, it is increasingly challenging for businesses in any industry to make firm plans.

According to recent research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the number of construction employers feeling the impact of Brexit has increased by 9 per cent compared with last year,and almost half the employers in the sector are concerned that recruitment is going to become more difficult over the next two years.

On the bright side – difficult times stimulate innovation and initiatives and could very well serve to drive the changes needed to meet demands and minimise costs.

Last week, the government unveiled the details of a £420m construction sector deal launched to spur what has been nicknamed the “bytes and mortar” revolution – transforming the construction industry through innovative technologies in digital design and offsite manufacturing.

This much-anticipated deal aims to increase productivity and speed-up the housebuilding process, driving economic growth and creating well-paid highly skilled jobs in every part of the UK. It is also expected to generate 25,000 construction apprenticeships by 2020, while £34m will be invested to scale up innovative training models.

As one of the UK’s leading specialist recruiters, Acorn is well aware of the challenges currently facing the construction industry. This is why we welcome this new partnership between the UK government and the construction industry as very positive news.

Although much remains to be delivered, one can only rejoice that the sector is committed to developing training programmes focused on the skills needed to modernise the industry.

In today’s digital age, the creation of new roles, radically different from those seen in previous years, is a key business driver for construction. This means that although the current lack of traditional skills remains an issue for the sector, it may not be as critical, provided that the needed advances in technology move forward.