Our housing industry is back on solid ground

Based on official output figures, the Scottish construction industry has experienced something of a resurgence in recent times. At its nadir, the recession saw the annual value of the industry dip below £10 billion. Over the 12 months to June, annual industry output has rebounded to well over £11bn.

House-building was reporting a mini-boom across the UK, but the value of Scottish housebuilding has continued to decline. Picture: Getty

But these figures don’t necessarily tell the full story. Even as house-building was reporting a mini-boom across the UK as a whole, the value of Scottish housebuilding has continued to decline as has the number of new homes being built. At long last, there is evidence that the housing industry may be turning the corner but the recovery still has a long way to go.

Conversely, we’ve seen an explosion in the output value of infrastructure projects in Scotland, increasing by 63 per cent over the 12 months to June and now contributing almost a quarter of the total value of the Scottish industry.

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Employment is the other important piece of the jigsaw and here the evidence is even more telling. Statistics from the annual population survey show overall industry employment fell from 235,000 in 2008 to 164,000 in 2013 – a decline of some 30 per cent. Latest labour market figures provide little evidence that the recent growth in industry output is translating into more construction jobs.

The reality at the current moment is that the industry is potentially generating more output with fewer workers. The major challenge many employers now face is in finding suitably skilled candidates to fill a growing number of vacancies. With so many people having left the industry during the recession and fewer apprentices recruited annually in recent years, a shortage of skills is rapidly becoming the main challenge to the industry’s future prospects.

Government and the industry’s joint responsibility must now be to work harder than ever to highlight the fantastic career opportunities the construction sector has to offer. We also need to make sure that the industry’s growth is properly balanced across different sectors – and that companies of all sizes have fair and unrestricted access to the opportunities needed to provide training and development opportunities for the next generation of Scottish construction workers.

• Vaughan Hart is Managing Director of the Scottish Building Federation