Construction in East Sussex

How always possible has supported innovation and workforce development in East Sussex’s construction sectors

East Sussex boasts a diverse economy, with the construction and built environment sectors playing a significant role. It is fair to say that it faces a range of economic challenges, including slower growth compared to the national average, an ageing population, and pockets of significant deprivation. The county’s economy has strengths in education, health, and social work, but it struggles with lower productivity levels. Despite these issues, the construction and the built environment does contribute significantly to employment and economic output. Investment in infrastructure, housing, and sustainable building practices offer potential for growth and resilience.

The always possible team has worked in collaboration with many regional partners to provide:

  • Economic data impact assessment
  • Campaigns and resources
  • Careers and employability projects
  • Business growth, productivity and leadership mentoring

 

————–

Construction contribution

In 2016, the construction industry in East Sussex generated a GVA of £891 million, representing 8.6% of the county’s total, above the national average of 6.3%. The sector provides 8.8% of jobs in the county, with employment levels steadily increasing post-recession. The construction sector’ is key to the county’s overall economic health, supporting infrastructure development, housing projects and commercial development.

Key economic drivers:

  • Labour supply
  • Investment
  • Infrastructure
  • Sustainable construction
  • Digital innovation

Key statistics

  • East Sussex population: Approx. 552,000
  • GDP: £891 million from the construction sector
  • Employment rate: 8.8% in construction
  • Main construction sub-industries: Construction of buildings, civil engineering, specialised construction activities

 

Average income in East Sussex

East Sussex displays significant variation in average income across its districts.

  • East Sussex Overall:
    • Average full-time salary (2022): £32,800
    • Gross Disposable Household Income (2020): £23,800 per head
  • By District:
    • Wealden: Highest average full-time salary at £34,800, and GDHI per head at £24,500
    • Hastings: Lowest average full-time salary at £28,200, and GDHI per head at £18,700

Demography

The workforce in East Sussex’s construction industry is predominantly male, with women representing only 0.5% of manual jobs and 13% of the overall workforce​. The industry has a higher percentage of self-employed (52%) compared to the national average (42%)​. Additionally, the sector is facing challenges with an ageing workforce, with 30% aged over 50​.

 

————–

Business Landscape

East Sussex has around 4,000 registered construction businesses, constituting 17.5% of all businesses in the county. These range from small, specialised firms to larger companies involved in major infrastructure projects. 

Challenges

  1. Skills shortages: There is a critical shortage of skilled tradespeople, particularly in roles such as bricklaying, plumbing and electrical installation. The industry’s ability to attract and retain young talent is essential for future growth.
  2. Ageing workforce: With the lowest share of working-age population among all English counties, fewer than two in every three people in East Sussex are of working age. This demographic imbalance strains the local economy, as older populations tend to spend less, reduce overall economic activity, and increase demand for health and social care services, further limiting the availability of labour for high-growth sectors. This creates barriers to economic growth and sustainability in the region.
  3. Brexit and labour supply: The reduction in the availability of non-UK workers post-Brexit could exacerbate existing labour shortages, impacting project timelines and costs.
  4. Apprenticeship funding and training: Navigating the apprenticeship levy and ensuring sufficient training opportunities for new entrants and existing workers remains a challenge for many businesses.

Opportunities

  1. Green construction and retrofit projects: There is a growing focus on sustainable building practices, prefab housing and retrofitting existing structures to improve energy efficiency. This sector is expected to see substantial growth in the coming years.
  2. Digital transformation: The adoption of digital technologies in construction, such as BIM and advanced project management software, offers opportunities for efficiency improvements and cost savings.
  3. Infrastructure development: Ongoing and planned infrastructure projects, including housing developments and public transport improvements, present continuous opportunities for growth in the sector.
  4. Collaboration: Strengthening ties between businesses and educational institutions can enhance workforce readiness.
  5. Innovation: Fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship can drive sector growth.
  6. Investment in training: Continued support for training initiatives, especially in sustainable practices, to address skill gaps.
  7. Policy support: Engaging with local and national policymakers to create favourable conditions for business growth and investment in the construction sector.

How have we helped?

always possible has worked with a range of critical clients in East Sussex. Our mission, as with every place we get to know, is to help build thriving cities, towns and regions through economic development and social innovation.

East Sussex College Group logo with birds
Future Skills Sussex logo
Sussex Chamber of Commerce logo
Careers East Sussex
East Sussex College Group logo with birds
Future Skills Sussex logo
Sussex Chamber of Commerce logo
Careers East Sussex

Scale Up East Sussex: Built Environment

Context: In 2022, always possible designed and delivered the Scale Up East Sussex programme focused on the built environment sector. This programme aimed to support SMEs in scaling their operations, enhancing business capabilities, and stimulating regional economic development. Over a 12-month period, the programme engaged 30 businesses in the construction sector.

Approach: The programme began with comprehensive diagnostics using Scoreapp technology to assess each business’s needs. Key support areas identified included wellbeing, sales and marketing, business protection, stress management, and contract confidence. Each business received a tailored growth plan through a structured approach using the GROW coaching framework.

Participants attended workshops, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and peer networking events. The Possibility Club, always possible’s online platform with over 600 members, provided additional resources and networking opportunities. This structured approach ensured clear, practical roadmaps tailored to unique challenges and opportunities.

Outcome: By the end of the programme, participants reported significant improvements in strategic planning, marketing effectiveness, and operational efficiency. Satisfaction levels were high, with 85% rating the programme 4 or 5 out of 5. Key metrics included a 30% increase in revenue for participating businesses and the creation of 40 new jobs. For example, Hailsham Roadways projected turnover growth from £7 million to £15 million over five years, expanding its workforce from 70 to 134 staff.

Construction Skills Task Group

Context: To address the sector’s evolving needs, always possible was tasked with establishing the first Construction Skills Task Group to support Skills East Sussex’s strategic priorities.

Approach: Working closely with the county council, always possible facilitated the group for the pilot period, established terms of reference and brokered membership of the group, eventually appointing Scott Monk from GM Monk Ltd as chair.

Five years later, the groups is very influential,  including local employers such as Cheesmur Building Contractors, OHM Energy, and national firms like Morgan Sindall and Jacobs. Education partners include East Sussex College Group and the University of Brighton. The group focuses on attracting tutors for construction courses, promoting career opportunities, developing a retrofit strategy, and supporting recruitment.

Outcome: The task group has achieved a number of significant milestones. Notably, the Tutor Encounters event in July 2023 facilitated connections between educational leaders and industry professionals. The group supported East Sussex College Group in developing CNC engineering courses and securing £100K for degree-level apprenticeships. Through initiatives like the Sector-based Work Academy Programme (SWAP) with Willmott Dixon, nine out of ten participants completed the programme, with three securing jobs and four maintaining recruitment connections. The group’s efforts have led to more relevant curricula, increased work-based learning opportunities, and over £1.4 million leveraged in external funding, enhancing the local skills ecosystem.

Roadways

Context: Roadways, based in Hailsham, is a regional leader in highways construction and maintenance, known for their in-house capabilities including carriageway recycling reconstruction, asphalt surfacing and low carbon materials. With a strong commitment to sustainability, they aim to find eco-friendly ways to connect people from footways to major highways.

always possible has supported Roadways for a number of years on leadership decision-making and pioneering their prototype low-carbon cement, leading to the launch of a materials innovation centre. The company was recognised as Sussex Company of the Year in 2021 for their innovative work.

Approach: Roadways commissioned always possible to spend some time on strategic development, helping to diagnose challenges and opportunities, through a number of group and 1:1 sessions for the directors. Focus areas included navigating volatility, improving work-life balance, and establishing Roadways as an industry thought leader.

Outcome: The engagement resulted in some strategic recommendations for the next 12-18 months. Key outcomes included guidance around a crisis management plan, improved PR and storytelling and initiatives to enhance the work environment. The work has underlined Roadways projected revenue growth to £20 million per annum with a 10% profit margin, expanded operations, and diversified client base.

Construction Careers Events

Context: The construction sector in East Sussex has significant potential, with job opportunities 46% above the national average. The always possible team, in collaboration with Careers East Sussex, designed a series of careers events aimed at raising awareness about the diverse job opportunities within this vital industry.

These events sought to bridge the gap between industry needs and job seekers’ skills. The virtual events were designed to engage both young people and adults, promoting the construction sector as a viable and exciting career path.

Approach: The format included a sector overview, behind-the-scenes employer videos, and a Q&A session with industry professionals, training providers and apprentices. Pre-event engagement involved collecting questions from participants to ensure relevance and maximise engagement. Each event was recorded and packaged as a resource for ongoing use by the Careers Hub. Information sheets and a post-event summary was were published.

Outcome: The careers events successfully engaged a mix of young people and adults. Post-event surveys indicated high satisfaction, with 90% of attendees reporting an increased understanding of career opportunities in construction. The events were particularly effective in debunking myths about the industry. Employers reported an increase in interest and applications following the events, and the initiative was praised for its innovative approach and comprehensive content. 

Careers East Sussex - Careers in Construction (for 14-24yr-olds). May 26th 10am

We’ll help different sectors to navigate the future.

always possible works with public and private sector clients to make sense of it all.

We can work out trends and patterns that might transform your thinking.

We can help you better understand risks and opportunities.

We can look at your data and help you use it to better tell your story.

Loading...