The Number of Builders in the UK

A silhouette of construction workers working on a building

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August 16, 2023

Brexit, Covid and the cost of living are having a big impact on the number of builders currently in the UK. So too is the rising cost of materials, combined with ongoing supply issues.

Another area that is having an effect on the construction industry is the inability of the current government to meet its house building target of 300,000 new build homes every year.

Brexit saw thousands of foreign builders return home because they no longer had visa rights to work in the UK. Later in 2020, thousands of foreign workers returned home during the pandemic. To find out how many builders are still in employment in the UK, or registered as a company, read on:

Number of Building Companies

According to the government, there are 3.1 million workers employed in the United Kingdom construction industry in 2023. The research company IBISWorld reports that there are 98,610 construction contractors registered.

Number of Builders

Employment within the building sector has actually grown annually since 2018, at approximately 2.8 per cent. Back in 2018, there was around 845,000 individuals, scattered throughout the four nations.

Regional Breakdown

There are vast differences when it comes to regional breakdowns in the number of UK builders. As you might expect the majority of contractors are in London, with the South East, the second highest and East of England third.

In terms of how many builders in the UK are needed on a regional basis, then according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), one of the areas with the highest need is the West Midlands. There, an additional 25,350 extra workers will be required to meet construction need by 2027. That’s an increase of 2.3 per cent of the current workforce in the area.

Both Yorkshire and Humber and the North East also face big future demand in the construction sector. Around 17,800 additional builders, carpenters, plumbers etc are needed for the former and 7,900 for the latter. The percentage increases for the current workforces are 1.7 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.

Greater London also faces a tough big recruitment drive in the future, with 22,800 extra workers needed there by 2027. That’s a 1.1 per cent increase on current numbers. Meanwhile, it’s a 1.5 per cent jump in the East of England where 19,050 extra workers will have to be found.

The demand is despite the low numbers of homes being built in the UK and which is, of course, exacerbating the current housing crisis. A report from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) makes for ‘worrying reading’ according to the organisation’s Chief Executive Brian Berry. Citing the fact that it is the sixth month in a row the building of homes has fallen, he says it’s the lowest number for 14 years.

Change Over Time

According to the research website Ibisworld, the number of UK construction contractors has grown annually by 3.5 per cent. This is between 2018 to 2023.

When it comes to UK construction output, February this year saw the highest level – in value terms – since records began back in 2010. The increase was 2.4 per cent in volume and followed a fall the previous month of 1.7 per cent. This was according to the government website ONS.

New work for the month increased by 1.1 per cent while there was a 4.5 per cent jump in repair and maintenance. Total value of the rise in output volume was £15,558 million.

One of the main reasons for the increase in output was down to better weather, meaning there was more opportunity to get building and repair work etc completed. To the extent that eight out of nine sectors in the construction industry saw a rise in output in February this year. The biggest increases were in the private housing repair and maintenance sector and the non-housing repair and maintenance sector. These benefitted from increases of five per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively.

Demand for Builders

Despite the unfavourable economic circumstances, supply chain problems and the increasing cost of materials, a new report from the sector says the demand for builders is still high.

Research recently released by the CITB shows that another 225,000 workers are needed if the UK is to meet construction demand by 2027. That figure equates to 44,980 new builders a year between now and then. If that growth is met the total number of people working in the construction industry by 2027 will be 2.67 million.

The areas in which workers are needed most are private housing, repair and maintenance, and infrastructure projects. As a result of demand, the CITB is continuing to focus on upskilling and training, as well as recruitment.

Tim Balcon, CITB Chief Executive stressed the need to recruit and train new talent in the UK construction industry. As a result, the organisation has invested almost £50m for more than 22,000 construction industry apprenticeships. At the same time, more than 16,000 learners have also been given grants to obtain qualifications.

The CITB is, of course, also keeping employers in its sights. Companies have been awarded grants to help them recruit and keep skilled construction workers. SMEs in particular have benefitted from the CITB’s grant awarding body. Since April 2022 SMEs have been helped to train new employees and apprentices on 26,976 occasions.

But builders aren’t the only sector in the construction industry where new recruits are needed. Recent research carried out by the Building Engineering Business Survey, show that more than 50 per cent of the UK’s engineering companies say they can’t get enough staff.

Data Sources

The data sources for this article are the result of government statistics (particularly the Office of National Statistics), publications in the construction sector and private research companies. Figures were also taken from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

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