Business confidence among Flemish SMEs is falling sharply again after six good months. This is evident from the most recent construction barometer of Bouwunie, the sector organization that represents SMEs and the self-employed in the construction sector. Although the work volume remains at a sufficiently high level and the agenda is well filled, the tightness in the labor market, the recent price increases and the uncertainty surrounding the further consequences of the covid pandemic are causing a restless start to the year.
Bouwunie’s managing director Jean-Pierre Waeytens emphasizes that business confidence had recovered well in 2021, after a disastrous 2020. “But the positive trend we saw then is almost completely thwarted.”
The order books are still well filled: 91 percent of the surveyed construction companies have sufficient work today. Three out of four construction companies have their agendas filled for more than three months. A fifth of them still have work for more than nine months.
However, expectations for 2022 are tempered by the circumstances. For example, 92 percent of construction companies consider the abnormal price increases of products and raw materials a serious bottleneck, 60 percent expect additional price increases in the coming weeks.
Also in the construction sector, the supply problems for many products and materials persist, energy prices are peaking and inflation and wage costs are rising.
However, the biggest challenge facing construction companies is finding suitable personnel. In addition, many construction companies have to deal with employee loss due to infections or quarantine. And working from home is not an option in this sector.
“This ensures that most construction companies do not have too high expectations for 2022,” says Bouwunie. “One construction company in three fears a status quo or economic decline, at a time when the order books are well filled.”
Bouwunie is therefore arguing for a significant reduction in the tax burden for additional employment of unskilled workers. “This not only lowers the barrier to recruiting extra people, it also offers employers the much-needed extra space to provide training in the workplace,” says Waeytens.