Skills shortage and Brexit still pose major issue to increasing housing stock, report finds

Uncertainty over Brexit has hit housebuilders’ ability to recruit architects, according to new research in the annual Lloyds Bank Housebuilding Report.

Fifty of the 100 firms surveyed said the EU exit negotiations were making it harder to attract architects.

By contrast 41 firms reported difficulty in recruiting project managers, planners, quantity surveyors and plumbers – the second scarcest professions.

Only around a third of firms said finding bricklayers, electricians, joiners and site managers was a problem.

The survey authors did not specify whether they were asking about in-house architects or external contracted practices.

But the news will come as no surprise to the profession which has repeatedly warned about the effect the uncertainty is having on their non-UK-passport-holding EU employees, who often make up a significant proportion of their staff.

Some practices, such as Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, have directly referred to the vote’s effect on their non-UK staff in trading updates. Amanda Levete has even broached the possibility of opening a Paris office in a bid to retain staff at her AL_A practice. Irish architect O’Mahony Pike shut is London office in 2016 partly in response to the referendum result.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire has said he has heard of talented architects either leaving the UK or seriously considering it because of uncertainty about their future status.

Paul Chappell, director of specialist architecture recruitment firm 9B Careers, said the referendum had caused many EU architects to fundamentally shift their thinking about the UK.

“We had a 60% decline in applications from EU residents after the referendum,” he said.

“There’s been a dramatic shift,” he said. “My clients who are EU residents from southern Europe think the UK doesn’t have the same appeal that it used to. People just don’t feel quite as wanted as they did before.”

Earlier this month independent economic analysis commissioned by London mayor Sadiq Khan warned a “no deal” hard Brexit could lead to a loss of 43,000 construction jobs across the UK. Last year Aecom warned the country’s construction sector was already suffering an “exodus” of workers.

The Lloyds Bank Housebuilding Report, published today, also found the sector was tackling the skills shortage head on, with almost 70% of firms investing in staff training, and half setting up apprenticeship programmes.

The report also found housebuilders are investing in modern methods of construction and skills to tackle the housing crisis, with 68% investing in modular housing and 56% in panelised systems.

Housebuilders’ listed improved efficiency, ease of build, better construction standards and in some areas increased margins as motivations.

As a result, firms’ investment in new building techniques has increased year on year from 20% of current annual turnover to 24% over five years.

David Cleary, national head of housebuilding at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The housebuilding industry remains upbeat despite issues that have weighed down the sector for some time including Brexit uncertainty which is contributing to a skills shortage and inflating the cost of raw materials.

“It is reassuring to see the sector confronting these challenges head on by investing and planning for business growth, prioritising staff training and looking at more innovative new building techniques.”