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Long COVID and Skills Shortages Means a Tough Winter for Construction Industry 

Long COVID and Skills Shortages Means a Tough Winter for Construction Industry 
20 July 2021
 

The lifting of lockdown restrictions has been greeted with much excitement, yet construction experts claim COVID continues to cast a dark shadow on their industry and say the knock-on effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt long after the initial summer celebrations are over.

Although construction output remains above its February 2020 level, despite a 0.8 per cent fall in May 2021, there are still many risks currently faced by the industry, including a skills shortage and the effects of long COVID.  

Actuate UK, the alliance of UK building engineering services is warning the sector to be vigilant and follow good practice guidance to prevent long-lasting impacts on businesses. 

 

“We’re hearing first-hand accounts of construction firms being unable to recruit skilled staff, despite full order books. And this is only the start. The pandemic has had repercussions for training; the number of new entrants coming into the workforce has declined. The difficulties of gaining practical experience, along with reduced numbers starting apprenticeships has taken its toll.”

–Andrew Eldred

Actuate UK 

SME Construction Firms Each Lost 29 Days Every Month From Staff Absence

 

Construction was one of the few industries which continued operating during lockdowns, due to its importance in building and maintaining the infrastructure of national importance, including test centres and the Nightingale hospitals.

However, YouGov data is raising questions about the ability of the UK construction sector to return to pre-pandemic activity levels.  According to the poll, in the year up to May 2021, across all members of staff, small to medium-sized construction firms each lost an average of 29 days every month from staff absent from work.

This figure excluded people on furlough – and Actuate UK say the situation will only get worse as businesses go under or are forced to operate on much-reduced capacity. Moreover, key projects may be delayed or come to a costly halt.

Fiona Hodgson, CEO of Actuate UK member SNIPEF, says: “As the restrictions ease, Actuate UK urges industry to strike a balance when considering the health of its workers and the need to move the economy forward.

“This survey gives us grave concern about the long-term effects of COVID on our industry. Building services are the lifeblood of all major construction projects, with heating, lighting, ventilation and digital infrastructure essential to successful project delivery.

“Yet we continue to hear from members there are simply not enough skilled installers to meet current demand. With fewer apprentices being recruited during the pandemic this has exacerbated the issue and we are deeply concerned this will impact on government targets and future projects.”

 

Post Pandemic Recovery at Risk

 

The government is currently looking at construction to lead the post-pandemic recovery, funding new infrastructure projects such as the New Hospitals Programme in England and the electrification of the UK’s road and rail networks. 

However, Actuate UK says that with a significantly reduced workforce, it won’t be possible to keep pace with demand – and key projects could suffer as a result.

Andrew Eldred, of Actuate UK and ECA’s Director of Skills and Employment says: “We’re hearing first-hand accounts of construction firms being unable to recruit skilled staff, despite full order books. And this is only the start.

“The pandemic has had repercussions for training; the number of new entrants coming into the workforce has declined. The difficulties of gaining practical experience, along with reduced numbers starting apprenticeships has taken its toll.”

 

Long COVID

 

The disruptive symptoms of long COVID throws another shadow on the horizon, with recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that 385,000 people in the UK have lived with symptoms for a year or more.

Although vaccination can help guard against the initial impact of COVID itself, sufferers can experience brain fog and fatigue caused by long COVID, preventing them from returning to work.

Eldred added: “While life may return to ‘the new normal’ for many in the coming weeks and months, for others, the long-term impact of the pandemic will remain a very real barrier to work.

“The knock-on consequences of this and the skills shortage could be all too real for individuals, businesses and the economic recovery itself, so it’s vital that we factor in contingency plans and take steps to protect our workforce”.

Picture: a photograph of a construction worker wearing a hard hat, working at a bench

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 20 July 2021

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