Robbie Blackhurst at Procure North West explains why the industry needs to show greater commitment to plugging the widening skills gap, particularly through financial support, as Brexit and the inevitable impact on EU workers get closer
In recent years, the construction industry has heard much about the skills shortage crisis, with unions recently condemning UK construction training, but we’ve seen little in the way of actually solving the problem.
Action, not just criticism, to protect our industry
If we want to build a talented, home-grown workforce then the way we train simply has to change. Whether young people are learning to lay bricks, manage construction sites or design buildings, trainees need to be engaged through on-the-job training and rewarding experiences.
Despite recent union criticism of construction courses, changing how we train is no simple task. With the U.K still lingering in austerity, schools and colleges continue to face budget cuts, and this often means a decrease in money for NVQ training, as well as teachers. With less staff available, it’s often impossible for education providers to deliver on-site learning safely, which means it doesn’t happen at all.
One positive is that the training issue has been recognised by Government. In the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, a £29m construction skills fund was announced for the purpose of creating 20 ‘skills villages’ across the country, which will focus on hands on learning, delivered on live site environments.
At these skills villages, students will learn alongside trained professionals, picking up key skills and knowledge from those with real industry experience. As well as providing immersive learning, these sites, and the apprentices being trained on them, will be showcased to local employers, opening up career opportunities and getting young people straight into work.
With funding for better training, classroom-based courses and the lack of employment opportunities that have often disengaged young people with construction, can be avoided, attracting a new and diverse workforce.
Frameworks have the opportunity to protect our industry
While new government funding is a welcome boost, the public sector can’t revolutionise the way we attract, recruit and train the next generation of skilled construction workers alone. The private sector needs to help in any way it can and it’s time it stepped up its commitment to the challenge.
Frameworks have the opportunity to help protect the future of the industry and the people within it, by making sure that a responsibility for skills is shared. This can begin with an obligation to hire apprentices written into framework agreements, ensuring that more young people get real-site experience. Acting as a middle ground between the public and private sectors, frameworks can also encourage communication between public sector bodies and contractors when it comes to training, leading to a more cohesive approach to tackling the skills crisis.
We’re directly funding training courses, with a percentage of our framework fee being donated to helping more young people access apprenticeships and develop the skills the sector so desperately needs.
Recognising and sharing a responsibility for skills not only benefits young people and the state of the industry, but also the businesses and communities that depend on the future projects that cannot be built without people with the right skills.
Robbie Blackhurst, managing director of Procure North West