For many of those who have seen construction in and out of recessions in the past there will be a familiar pattern emerging. The industry is losing skills that will be desperately needed when the industry rebounds.
During the long stretch of growth leading up to the credit crunch the industry was, in effect, bailed out by the convenient timing of Eastern European countries joining the European Union.
The possibility of an explosion in wages and crushing constraints on growth were averted as labour-starved firms looked to often highly-skilled Poles, Hungarians, Latvians, Romanians and others to fill the growing number of jobs they had open.
But even then there were fears of a skills gap and industry surveys suggested there were constraints on growth.
Then came the credit crunch. The recession followed and the industry has lost about 400,000 jobs from the peak in 2008 to the present.
In the second quarter of this year the number of recorded workforce jobs fell to below 2 million for the first time in 10 years and the number of directly employed jobs fell to its lowest level for 15 years.
That is bad news for the industry. But with output expected to fall we should expect to see the numbers of construction jobs to fall further.
Perhaps more disturbing in the long run is the drop in the number of construction workers registered as unemployed – from 250,000 to 179,000 over the past three years.
Naturally it is good news that former construction folk have found jobs. But from an selfish industry perspective much of that pool of labour is unlikely to be ready to return to construction if and when needed.
These are crude figures, not totally compatible and should not be taken as gospel. But if we add the number of unemployed construction workers to those in work we have a crude notion of an available pool of construction labour.
That pool of labour has shrunk by about 380,000. Furthermore the longer the recession and labour shedding go on the older the construction labour force will get as fewer young people join. This in turn will lead to an increase in retirements in the future, potentially when the industry is crying out for workers.
All in all this is not good news. For those who have seen it all before, it is extremely depressing, especially as it is anyone’s guess whether the industry will in future have cheap and ready skilled labour from abroad ready and eager to fill its skills gap.