Half of small builders want targeted immigration to tackle skills crises, says FMB

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  Posted by: electime      3rd February 2023

The latest State of Trade Survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) reveals that 48 per cent of FMB members are in favour of the UK Government introducing plans to attract more skilled labour from abroad to help address the chronic skills gap in construction. 21 per cent opposed changing immigration rules, and 27 per cent neither supported nor opposed them.

With the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) reporting the need for 53,000 additional workers a year to meet construction demand, the FMB is calling for all options to be considered to get Britain building. The FMB survey data also stressed support for any immigration measures to be underpinned by investment in UK-based skills training.

The FMB State of Trade Survey, published today, also spells bad news for the health of the sector, with a fall in workload and employment, and a significant drop in enquiries for future work. Small house builders have been particularly badly hit, with a dramatic decline in workloads and enquiries. As cost-of-living pressures continue to bite, this new data foreshadows a tricky economic climate in 2023 that the Government has an opportunity to address at the Spring Budget.

The FMB State of Trade Survey, which is released quarterly, is the longest-running survey of its kind to track the experience of small to medium-sized (SME) construction firms in the UK. The latest survey for Q4 2022 found:


  • 48 per cent of small, local builders are in favour of the UK Government encouraging increased immigration of skilled labourers, provided this is supported by investment in UK-based training opportunities.

UK market conditions

  • Workloads and enquiries decreased in Q4 2022 compared to Q3 2022 on balance in all sectors.
  • In terms of total enquiries, 41 per cent of FMB members reported a decrease in Q4 compared to Q3 2022, with only 29 per cent saying this had increased.
  • House building activity has fallen 17 per cent from 1 per cent to -18 per cent compared to Q3 2022. Reported enquiries for new house building projects have dropped 11 per cent from -8 per cent to -19 per cent .


  • 15 per cent of FMB members reported an increase in the number of employees within their companies’ workforce in Q4 2022, with 19 per cent saying it had decreased.
  • Around a third of FMB members are struggling to recruit carpenters/joiners, bricklayers and general labourers (39 per cent , 35 per cent , and 30 per cent respectively).


  • 89 per cent of FMB members reported an increase in material costs in Q4 2022.
  • 85 per cent of respondents expect material costs to increase in Q1 2023.
  • 70 per cent of builders have put up their prices for work.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The growing skills gap in the construction sector is a ticking time bomb that the Government can’t afford to ignore. Whether that’s looking again at targeted immigration measures, supported by half of builders in the latest FMB State of Trade Survey, or using the Spring Budget to bring forward a comprehensive skills strategy to roadmap how we fill the gaps and train at scale, it’s time to act.”

Berry concluded: “This quarter’s FMB State of Trade data shows some potentially worrying signs for every part of the construction sector with workloads and enquiries down significantly. Ambitious plans are needed to get small, local builders motoring. A first step is the need to unblock the planning system to get more homes built.  There is also an urgent need to invest in greening our homes, with a long-term plan towards retrofitting the existing housing stock. This move would give construction businesses the certainty they need to invest.”