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On the face of it, the future for the construction industry is …?

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Like everybody in the construction industry north of the border, we are avid readers of Project Scotland.  If you go online and have a look at their news pages, the plethora of stories that paint an optimistic picture tells its own story.  Yet, as I’ve written before, there are quite a few doom-mongers who tend to emphasise the negative rather than look at what’s happening on the ground.  While acknowledging that Project Scotland has a vested interest in keeping its readers’ spirits up, the news page, at the time of writing, has only two stories of firms going bust: the rest is generally unmitigated good news.

What is the truth?  Are we all going to hell in a handcart or is the construction industry actually in reasonably good nick?  One quick, and admittedly unscientific, way to check is to ask Mr Google.  So I searched for “Scottish Construction Industry decline” and lo and behold…

…on page one of the results I found about a 50:50 split between good and bad news.  For example, at the start of 2017, the CITB prophesied “Growth for most sectors, but infrastructure down,” while The Herald chose to lead with a headline that hedged its bets, “Scottish construction growth forecast at only one-fifth of UK rate but 21,000 new workers needed.”  This Herald article, published on 26th January, was written by their Group Business Editor, whose name was also appended to an article in the Glasgow Evening Times a few days later (on 8th February), under the less positive headline, “Construction Output expected to decline.”  The expectation is that the total number employed in construction will decrease up to 2020, largely due to the ending of the large-scale infrastructure projects that we all know are coming to/have come to an end. Despite this, there will be new jobs created to replace those retiring and it’s also generally accepted (see below) that skills shortages in key areas will continue to be an issue.

The same Google search showed the Scottish Government statistics for the economy generally, which reveal that between 2014 and 2015 GVA (Gross Value Added) from construction grew considerably (partly as a result of the aforementioned infrastructure work). 2015 seems to have been a peak, following three years of substantial growth. Clearly, this growth makes it more likely that, unless the public sector investment were to be maintained, the total value of construction was, eventually, going to decrease from that 2015 peak.   That’s what has happened, but, and it’s a big but, all of these reports do make it clear that the industry is still growing and there are lots of jobs available.  Another report from the start of this year, in, was headlined, “Scotland’s construction sector ‘more optimistic’ on year ahead.”  That same report also noted that “skills shortages are restricting growth…with half of those surveyed pointing to a lack of quantity surveyors.”

Now, as we reach the year’s end, where are we?  Doubtless more reports and surveys will be published.  Doubtless there will be more (understandable) pessimism over Brexit and the economy generally.  Doubtless, the mainstream press will continue to print gloomy headlines in a forlorn attempt to maintain their crumbling circulations. And, quite probably, Project Scotland will still have more good news than bad and firms at the sharp end of construction recruitment will carry on being very busy and will continue to seek out those hen’s teeth QS, engineers and quality tradespeople that their clients are crying out for… 

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment



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