Workforce growth plateaus as roofers report continued recruitment difficulties

Workforce growth plateaus as roofers report continued recruitment difficulties

Direct employment levels among roofing contractors plateaued in the second quarter of 2023, with use of sub-contracted labour only rising very slightly, the latest State of the Roofing Industry survey report from NFRC and Glenigan has indicated.

As many firms reported an increase in their employee numbers, as reported a fall. Use of sub-contracted labour also changed very little compared to the first quarter of the year. This varied by sector: some saw an increase in staffing, particularly in the public non-residential RM&I sector, whilst the opposite was seen in the commercial and public non-residential new build sectors.

Firms also reported increased difficulty in finding workers with the necessary skillset. 46% of firms experienced greater difficulty recruiting suitable labour during the second quarter compared to the previous quarter, against only six per cent seeing an improvement in recruitment conditions.

Roof slaters and tilers were in shortest supply (32% reporting a shortage), with 26% saying the same with regards to built-up felt roofers. 15% said they had struggled to recruit general labourers.

Despite this, firms’ labour costs continued to increase, perhaps suggesting that firms are increasing pay for existing staff and/or sub-contractors.

Concerns in some sectors about near-term pipelines of work reflected an apparent slight fall in enquiry rates for UK roofing contractors in the second quarter of 2023. 22% reported increased enquiries, against 29% seeing a decline.

However, workloads continued to grow: 38% of firms reported an increase in workloads versus 20% reporting a decline.

Enquiry levels varied by sector, with residential new build work notably seeing a decline. Commercial repair, maintenance and improvement work stood out as the strongest sector in terms of the future pipeline.

Material price inflation persisted: whilst its rate has eased significantly, 45% of firms still saw overall increases in the prices they paid, versus only 8 per cent reporting paying less.

Late payment also continued to blight roofing contractors. Whilst 58% of firms had standard payment terms of 30 days or less, only 33% reported that they were usually paid within that timescale. 76% of firms also reported being subject to cash retentions—this was most prevalent among firms which undertook new residential work (90%). The average level of retention held on projects across all sectors was 4.3%.

Expectations were mixed regarding pipelines of work. Despite firms feeling positive in the near term, foreseeing increased workloads in Q3 of this year, more firms expect their workloads to fall over the next twelve months than expect an increase.

James Talman, NFRC CEO, said: “Ultimately, the results of the survey reflect current uncertainties around pipelines of work in specific sectors, and the number of opportunities that do materialise will reflect government priorities in the coming months. We will continue to advocate for the needs of roofing and cladding contractors to government, and welcome Members’ input on our advocacy priorities. NFRC will also, as ever, offer practical support to Members facing challenges, from HR and tax helplines to technical guidance to bespoke recruitment support.”

Allan Wilen, Glenigan’s economic director, added: “The latest survey reveals that while cost pressures and materials issues are beginning to stabilise, concerns over future workload are on the rise. The survey indicates that roofing industry workload will continue to rise during the second quarter with further growth anticipated near term. However, alongside a softening in new enquiries, roofing contractors are becoming more cautious about their workload over the next twelve months.”

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