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SEASONAL SHUTDOWNS: THE ANSWER TO AN ANNUAL DILEMMA?

Summer can be a challenging time for the construction industry with a shortage of workers due to holidays, loss of free movement, and supply chain hold-ups; and it is not clear to what extent these issues will be resolved any time soon. One answer could be a change in the way we do things; for it to become ‘socially acceptable’ for firms to shut up shop for two to three weeks each summer when workers are in short supply.

The idea of an extended summer holiday was once a characteristic of the UK manufacturing industry, particularly in the automotive and production-line based sectors – the reason incidentally behind the popularity of beach towns like Blackpool. The practice was common in the 50s and 60s with the so-called annual ‘factory fortnight’ – an enforced shutdown to give staff leave during the school holidays, and for scheduling maintenance tasks that would otherwise disrupt the company’s work time. Factories in towns like Northampton would close for two weeks every summer when local footwear factories and their supply chains would have a co-ordinated vacation. To this day, construction equipment manufacturer JCB, closes its Rocester factory in Staffordshire every year for two-and-a-half weeks in July in keeping with the tradition. The idea being, if a firm temporarily shuts down when many people are on holiday then they are not operating with half a workforce, and everyone gets a break. In mainland Europe, summer shutdowns are the norm with retailers, factories, and city offices temporarily closing or operating reduced business hours. In Spain many people are required to take a certain amount of their vacations in August with some companies shutting down for the entire month; in Italy factories typically close their doors for several weeks in August with workers decamping to the coast for the duration; in Sweden factories shut down for a few weeks every summer for the industrisemester, or industry holiday.

Some might argue shutting down for the summer could mean a potential loss of business for other companies in the supply chain; and that the practice might hamper output and productivity risking the UK losing ground to its international competitors. Yet the opposite could be the case. Shutting down for a few weeks each summer could be more economically viable. A two-to-four-week break could lead to higher levels of engagement, increase morale, and be an attractive employee benefit. It would not affect the project programme and end date because it avoids the six-week period of 50 per cent staff reduction.

There will always be a need to for businesses to stay open and there is currently no groundswell of opinion for this, but it would great to see the industry feeling confident enough to do it this if it suits them and their staff.

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