There are plenty of skills challenges facing the industry. But if we get it right, we have the opportunity to build a next generation equipped with the practical skills to build the infrastructure and developments the country needs

Michael Riordan BW 2018

Last month, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) launched its Construction Skills Network Report 2018 – 2022, which forecasted that the industry is set for growth despite Brexit uncertainty. The report revealed that over 150,000 construction jobs are set to be created over the next five years. There are some substantial projects set to be delivered over the next 20 to 30 years in infrastructure, housing, education and health and this calls for the government agenda to support construction growth and assist the industry to engage with the next generation to enable the provision of a fresh pool of talent.

It is clear that industry and government need to collaborate and review the approach to training and recruitment. The recent CITB report references the Annual Recruitment Requirement (ARR) for professional trades for 2018-2022, predicting that wood trades and interior fit-out, other construction process managers and professionals and technical staff will be the most sought after. While there is continued growth in well-paid managerial roles and this trend is expected to continue, the report falls short in articulating how appropriate recruitment methods and apprenticeship schemes can assist in fulfilling these requirements.

Equally there has been much controversy in quarter one of 2018 regarding the apprenticeship levy. The complicated nature of the levy has been partly blamed for this, a report in March 2018 shows that there has been a drop of almost a third in the uptake of apprenticeships in the last quarter. Many are complaining the funds raised do not cover training costs and the levy has, in effect, become just another business tax. Launched in April 2017, the levy aims to raise £3bn a year to fund better training. Some companies say the maximum allowance of £27,000 per apprentice does not cover the cost of complex or high-level apprenticeships, while others say they will never get out as much as they pay in.

There is an issue - not just in construction but across the board – in that businesses are being expected to invest time and money to upskill the new workforce. Whilst initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy and the Construction Skills Network have tried to tackle this, we are finding they are falling short. A solution is needed, and this could be longer courses involving a year out working in industry. I believe there needs to be better training in universities and better apprenticeship and placement schemes for the industry to be able to cope with demand, as well as the changing methods of construction.

We must engage with the next generation and work with schools, colleges and universities to not only make the industry an appealing and attractive place to work but to provide a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce for the future.

We are developing a relationship with Westminster University, presenting to students and outlining the essentials they need in the world of work. We’re also working in partnership with the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), where students participate in a five-year apprenticeship which leads to an honours degree in Quantity Surveying. This includes working with their sponsor for four days a week and attending college one day a week allowing them to gain invaluable practical experience. Once they graduate, they have gained five years’ experience as opposed to the graduate who has attended college/ University full time for four years and in the vast majority of cases hasn’t worked in a construction company. Firms are much more likely to take someone on with experience. Certainly, that is our experience: we’re hiring the apprentices who worked with us on their year out and it’s proving hugely successful. Ultimately, this route benefits the employer because the student is entering the firm under full-time employment already having an understanding of how they work.

However, the larger problem we are facing as an industry, apart from the lack of practical skills, is the amount of people entering the industry. We need to tackle this at school level. When attending careers fairs we find that there is a knowledge gap for careers tutors on the options available to students interested in a career in construction, we are working to establish relationships with schools to increase the information available to tutors and students alike on the wide range of opportunities a career in the industry can offer.

If finding and nurturing talented young people is an issue, so too is retaining them. Here, location is a critical factor. In recent years, we’ve seen many young people move away from London for the simple reason that the cost of living is so high. Then there is the generation gap caused by the global financial crisis. As jobs dried up, talent migrated to parts of the world, such as Australia, Canada and the Middle East, where opportunities still existed, salaries are higher and the cost of living substantially less. Many have not returned.

What’s more, visa and permit laws in the UK mean that the cross-border flow of talent may have an impact on the available pool of construction resources. Enabling skilled construction talent to secure jobs in Britain will assist the industry in progressing both strategic and tactical projects planned to support economic growth.

So, there are a great many challenges facing the industry when it comes to skills. But if we get it right, we have the opportunity to build a next generation equipped with the practical skills to build the infrastructure and developments the country needs.