Labour challenges persist as roofing workloads rise

Labour challenges persist as roofing workloads rise

Workloads for roofing contractors grew once again during the first quarter of the year and a balance of 16% of firms saw a rise in enquiries against the previous quarter, the State of the Roofing Industry survey from NFRC and Glenigan has indicated.

Domestic and commercial RMI (repair, maintenance and improvement) spearheaded workload growth and had improving enquiry rates, whilst new build, both domestic and commercial, cooled off slightly for Members during the quarter. Despite this, all sectors remain positive that workloads will strengthen over the coming months.

Roofing contractors that operate nationwide had a more positive experience with workload growth in Q1 than those operating in a specific region. A balance of 60% of nationwide firms reported increasing workload, whilst in particular firms in Yorkshire and the North East, Wales, and Scotland saw a fall.

Difficulty obtaining labour with the right skillset solidified in Q1. Almost half (49%) of firms reported that they found recruitment harder in the period, versus only nine per cent who felt that the situation had improved. The data indicates that employment levels rose gently during the quarter despite a challenging labour market.

Notably though, this leaned towards using sub-contractors: a balance of 4% of firms increased their direct headcount against the previous quarter, whilst a balance of 11% grew their use of sub-contracted labour in Q1. Once again, the most sought-after skill was roof slating and tiling, with 45% of firms struggling to find enough slaters and tilers. This was a significant increase, as in Q4 only 25% of firms reported this. Predictably, this has been reflected in rising labour costs, with a balance of 58% of firms reporting increases during Q1.

Contractors reported a continued improvement material availability, with a balance of seven per cent of firms reporting an easier experience securing materials. However, material prices have continued to rise. A balance of 70% of firms reported increased material costs in Q1, up on the previous quarter.

Increased costs have fed into tender prices, and a balance of 51% of firms raised their prices this quarter. Cashflow has been made more challenging by persistent late payment, which has been a consistent theme since this survey’s inception.

Overall, contractors have positive market expectations for the next quarter and over the coming year. Roofing contractors in all six measured sectors reported expecting workload to improve over the next twelve months. On a regional basis, the majority also had this expectation, with the exceptions of firms in Scotland, the North West, and Yorkshire and the North East, who expected workloads to somewhat drop off. Contractors operating in the South West were the most positive about the coming year.

Ruth Scarrott, NFRC’s head of careers, said: “I am glad to see that contractors are positive in their expectations for 2023 and that workloads have remained strong across the industry, yet persistent recruitment difficulties are clearly hampering firms’ capacity to take on new jobs. Consequently, it is more important than ever that the industry and government work to address the skills challenge. Contractors who are worried about meeting their skills needs are encouraged to use NFRC’s free Careers Service for information and support.

“NFRC provides a number of services to help roofing contractors recruit and retain their workforce in this difficult landscape. All roofing or cladding contractors are welcome to get in touch to access fully funded support in finding, hiring, and keeping on a new starter in their business via the ‘ECO Project’. This means the contractor and their new-to-roofing team member, whether they are an apprentice, labourer, administrator or any other role, get guidance and support from us all the way from putting out their job advert until the employee is six months in post.

“The only stipulation is that the employee needs to be either new to roofing or returning after some time away from the industry. The online NFRC Careers Service also has completely free and accessible resources to guide firms through an effective recruitment process, providing contractors with the tools to grow their workforce.

“NFRC Members can also seek support from the NFRC Charitable Trust’s Inclusion Fund, which grants funds for employers’ efforts to recruit new people from diverse backgrounds, including site visits and practical demonstrations. Talent attraction, and recognising that new individuals are needed to replenish the experienced workforce, is a vital part of ensuring we have a skilled roofing workforce in the years to come.”

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