‘Acute fall’ in applications widens gap between vacancies and recruitment

Construction employers will face difficulties recruiting workers in the first quarter of the year, according to research from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).

Data supplied to the recruitment industry body by Broadbean Technology showed that vacancies in construction spiked at the end of 2022 while the overall number of applicants fell, in a sector already grappling with a skills shortage.

APSCo described a “significant jump” in advertised jobs in December 2022, with 21,367 roles recorded, marking a 121.4 per cent rise compared with the previous month and a 199 per cent increase on December 2021.

“To put things in context, the equivalent [year-on-year] increase in November [2022] was 13 per cent,” APSCo noted.

However, the number of applications for construction roles dropped by 53 per cent month-on-month in December 2022.

This drop can be explained only partly by the usual fall-off in job applications near Christmas, APSCo noted, adding “the fact that there was such an acute fall throughout the month is a worrying sign” for the construction industry.

APSCo CEO Ann Swain said: “The fall in application numbers at a time when demand is growing is a concern.

“Brexit did create a talent exodus in construction, leading to limited resources and more competition for the best professionals.

“However, with the number of active job seekers now falling, businesses and recruiters will face a tougher challenge to hire across the sector.”

In terms of pay for construction workers, APSCo noted a slight increase in salaries across the sector in 2022 – although this failed to keep pace with spiralling inflation.

“At a time when households are feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, employers may struggle to attract staff unless more is done to address remuneration packages,” APSCo warned.

A recent smaller-scale survey of SMEs from Close Brothers Asset Finance found that 65.7 per cent of respondents in the construction industry plan to raise staff wages this year amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

While construction firms face pressure to pay their workers more, a recent report from insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor found that inflation and economic uncertainty is fuelling “critical financial distress” in the sector.