One million extra workers by 2030 – what’s the solution?


‘The construction sector looks set to require 950,000 extra workers by 2030.’ 

Construction skyline

The picture of labour versus supply and demand of housing stock in the construction sector is… complex, to say the least. 

On the one hand, the UK Government has pledged delivery of 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s – add to that the thousands of additional workers required to retrofit stock for its Net Zero strategy. 

Then consider the sheer abundance of jobs currently available in the sector against the chronic shortage of available labour, both domestically and from overseas.  

Then the oft cited ‘ageing workforce’, set to retire in droves over the coming decade, against a deeply disconcerting lack of fresh blood coming through the education and apprenticeship routes to fill the void.  

Add to that the ongoing need to upskill and retrain staff, build social value, carbon neutralise, recruit and retain, manage costs, turn a profit, strategise for growth, sign this or that charter, implement new regulation, navigate the (ahem) peaceful waters of the planning system, adjust for inflation, invoice, manage the orderbook and grow the pipeline, find a brickie, sparky, and/or plasterer, switch to digital from analog, hire (and retain) a project manager and/or quantity surveyor, estimator, design expert et al, and manage project delivery. 

How convenient, then, that we just celebrated Easter Sunday, for, surely now, more than ever, do we need a saviour! 

But wait, there’s more. 

‘One million extra workers by 2030’ 

A recent study has shown that the construction industry may in fact require nearly one million extra workers by 2030… yes. 

And though chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget ensured that immigration rules would be relaxed for overseas workers ready to plug the labour shortfall in the UK (specifically for bricklayers, roofers, carpenters and plasterers), it is of relatively little benefit to the wider industry as the shortfall in recent years is largely self-employed persons, and the majority of the sector is SMEs who are ill-equipped to deal with the cost and bureaucracy of sponsorships.     

Make UK is now advocating for greater government investment in offsite modular construction to address the housing crisis, but with just half the additional workers required to meet current build targets.  

“If the government is serious about building more homes, it needs to back modular – it won’t be able to build them without it,” said Make UK. 

“The UK needs to build 92,000 extra houses annually to reach the 300,000 homes target. Hypothetically, modular could deliver this with just 46,000 extra workers (half the rate of traditional building), of which only 5,000 to 10,000 may need to be in skilled trades.” 

It added: “This isn’t about replacing traditional labour or skills or putting people out of work. It’s about creating additionality in the market, meaning more homes, more jobs, more taxes paid into the Treasury, and more economic activity and growth. Traditional building can and must keep building, but modular can supplement what it does.”  

What do the numbers say? 

  • In the 1970s, the UK was building more than 300,000 homes a year. 
  • In the 2010s, that fell by almost half to 165,000.  
  • The UK Government has pledged delivery of 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s. But it looks certain to miss that target. 

Labour market 

  • Since 2019, the sector has lost more than 100,000 workers. 
  • There are currently almost 50,000 unfilled jobs, costing the industry £2.6 billion in lost output. 
  • The housebuilding sector has not grown its workforce substantially for the last five years. 
  • 494,000 industry workers (21%) will retire in the next 10 years. 
  • Only 11,000 industry apprenticeships are completed annually (less than a quarter of the number leaving through retirement). 
  • Before Brexit, the UK relied on EU labour to fill some of the gap, but employers and overseas workers must now navigate a complex and costly immigration system.   

‘Modular offers a solution’ 

“We expect the industry’s workforce to shrink,” said Make UK. “Unchecked, construction may have 300,000 fewer workers in 2030.  

“Yet government has objectives which will create additional labour demand: there’s the 137,000 extra workers housebuilding needs to meet the 300,000 homes target by 2030, but also the 220,000 additional workers needed to retrofit homes for the Net Zero strategy, and an extra 240,000 needed to meet other infrastructure commitments and other building. 

“Add in the 360,000 more workers needed just to replace retirees, and the construction sector looks set to require 950,000 extra workers by 2030. 

‘Build differently’ 

It added: “Training more domestic workers would help, but there are no plans to quadruple apprenticeships. 

“The UK has no plan for recruiting and training this huge additional workforce, leaving construction with a shortfall of nearly 1 million skilled workers and potentially causing housebuilding to decline. 

“This is why we need to build differently. Modular housing offers a solution. Precision-engineered in factories, modular brings the efficiencies and quality control of manufacturing to housebuilding. This helps modular to sidestep construction skills and labour shortages.” 

Do you agree? Send your solutions to construction@wavenews.co.uk  

To read the full Make UK Modular report, click here.  

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