Industry challenge – skill shortage

Skill shortage

A skill shortage within UK construction is nothing new. Since the late 1980s, construction has battled against the rise of tertiary industries that have become more attractive for those starting further and higher education and entering the job market. While apprenticeships in these sectors have continued to grow, there has been a substantial fall in schemes associated with the construction industry. This has been further compounded by the recession; people left the industry to retrain and companies stopped taking on apprentices.

In 2014, the economy is taking off and growth in the sector is predicted to reach 6.2% above 2011 levels by 2015 (Construction Skills Network). A major challenge we have now is – how do we attract and retain talent to enable companies to take advantage of opportunities that are currently available?

The recession forced many construction workers to leave the industry and retrain in other sectors. Now, as more opportunities start to emerge, companies have to coax people back into the industry. With many of these previous construction industry workers no longer available, companies may have to take on individuals whose skills are not as developed; the cost implication for businesses is significant. This is further compounded by cost inflation across the whole construction industry, which is forecast at four per cent for this year and next, as well as the increase in the cost of materials as the economy improves. All these factors contribute to the pressures that contractors have on their margins.

So significant is this issue, that the government is highlighting their concern. Nick Raynsford, former Labour construction minister, has recently announced a ‘call to action’ asking Business Secretary Vince Cable to hold a summit and address the loss of more than 400,000 construction jobs during the recession, which has only increased the skills shortage across the industry.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) is also providing support by offering grants that pay for apprentices to attend college while working, to achieve a vocational qualification and enrol on an apprenticeship framework.

Many construction companies team up with universities to help develop the skills of younger people and encourage them to gain related degrees such as BSc (hons) in Construction Management. They do this by providing work experience, either in the form of a sandwich year or through part-time employment. At Conamar, we too remain committed to doing our bit; having recruited a number of apprentices – at least one a year – over the last 15 years.

So how do we support drive in new recruits? We can continue to promote ourselves through primary and secondary schools to encourage more young people to consider a career in construction, but what the industry really needs is investment.

To be able to deliver the projects that are becoming increasingly available, we need to invest in education, training and the promotion of the industry. The question is – what’s the best way to do this?