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West ecomony on up but report points to skills gap

By WMNlynbarton  |  Posted: April 24, 2014

By Lyn Barton, WMN reporter, Twitter: @BartonLyn

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Construction is on the up, says new report

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A revival in the construction industry is on the cards in the Westcountry as private housing and commercial sectors boom.

However, the good news contained in figures just released has been tempered with a warning that skills to cash in on the long awaited upturn are not yet up to scratch.

According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) confidence is growing in a sector that has long been dormant or with growth confined to the South East.

The organisation’s construction market survey for the first quarter of the year reveals the fastest rate of growth in workloads in the region since RICS began taken their snapshot of the economy in 1994.

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Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said could see confidence returning from every angle.

And, he said, people were putting their money where their mouth was by making hefty investments.

“I feel very confident about the future,” he said.

“I think the market is more flexible, more resilient and there is more money in the market.

“All of that means there will be more construction activity.”

Mr Jones said he believed there were a number of reasons behind the uplift.

“There have been Government help to buy homeowner schemes which have been successful and there is more occupation demand, which means that businesses are looking for invest in getting more space.

“There is a lot more money in the market and, importantly, there have been reforms to the planning system, which a lot of people have said were the last bastion of Stalinism.

“Now it is possible to get plans through in 13 weeks.”

However, the RICS warned that feel good factor is being eroded by a further increase in reported skills shortages across many trades.

Some 40% of respondents in the South West said they believed there were insufficient numbers of quantity surveyors currently available to meet rising supply demands for their skills.

Despite this, the continuing recovery in output in the sector across the UK will see further job gains with respondents forecasting a 3% year on year growth in the employment footprint – an additional 62,000 new employees being recruited into the construction industry.

Alan Muse, RICS director of built environment, said there was good and bad news.

“Clearly what we are seeing as the recovery takes shape, is that the impact of skills shortages in parts of the country where companies failed to invest in attracting new talent or in the training of existing employees at the height of the economic downturn.

“Now that the industry is experiencing an upturn in workload that is broadening out across the whole of the UK, it must ensure it has the capability to capitalise on these opportunities.”

It was a feeling shared by Mr Jones, who said training often lagged up to two years behind demand.

“There is a huge gap in the skills market and in local supply chains for raw materials. But the skills shortage will have an impact.”

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