Open mike When it comes to a career in construction, it’s hard to get talented youngsters interested. Which is especially frustrating because they’d love it if they could just get on site

For years now it’s been acknowledged that there is an obvious and serious skills shortage in construction. And while I’m all for anything that helps tackles this, I think we’re still missing a trick or two.

A group of contractors, unions and trade bodies has formed a taskforce with the aim of doubling construction apprenticeships to 14,000 by 2012. This is fantastic news and I hope the industry supports it 100%, but I’m not convinced it is a complete solution to our problem.

What happens after the first wave of new recruits comes through in four years’ time? Will there be as many in the following year, or the year after that? We’ll only get out of this scheme what we put in. So the key to success is getting young people on board in the first place. Yet many youngsters simply don’t see the construction industry as desirable.

For too long we’ve failed to tell them what a great industry construction is, with its many varied and challenging roles. The funny thing is, once you have worked in it, it’s unlikely that you will ever want to leave. It offers such a rich and diverse array of jobs and the pay can be good too! Anyone who’s on the ball can do very well for themselves.

I also hope the practical initiatives to put the construction industry and its different roles in front of children continue to gather momentum. It has to if we’re going to have a workforce in the future.

However, the big question is: what do we do for the four years while the cavalry is being trained? We need to think laterally about how to get new blood into the industry.

I was shocked to hear that only 4% of our industry’s
185,000 companies employ a construction skills apprentice

I was shocked to hear only 4% of our industry’s 185,000 companies employ a construction skills apprentice. Especially as our “back to basics” training scheme has been instrumental in CJ Haughey’s recent success.

I saw the potential in workers who had been laid off by car plant closures in Coventry. These guys knew the meaning of a hard day’s graft. Once approached and shown that their practical skills could be easily transferred to construction, they were keen to do so.

Our scheme takes these people and puts them on site where they shadow an experienced worker. This lets them get stuck in from day one, under the watch of an expert eye. We gave one 33 year old the opportunity to retrain as a setting out engineer. After 12 months of on-the-job training, supported by industry courses, he is showing real promise.

Sometimes we simply need to make better use of the young people we already have. Five years ago, we took on a 20 year old who had good general groundwork experience. From day one, he showed bags of initiative and really came over as someone who wanted to further himself. We gave him the freedom to develop his practical skills and a year later he grasped the opportunity to become a foreman. He hasn’t looked back since.

Another example is one of our newest QSs, aged just 21. He’d previously worked with another groundworks firm but it had had no real training strategy and the poor guy was being pushed from pillar to post. We paired him with one of our most experienced QSs and in 12 months, the knowledge he has passed down has transformed the guy. This shows that “back to basics” training works and why showing a belief in people can help haul the industry out of its situation. I think that it is also important that we grasp the experience we have in the industry and make sure it is passed down to younger people. There is no reason why other companies can’t tap into the rich vein of talent that’s already out there. As an industry we need to open our eyes and see the bigger picture. Every day I get the satisfaction of seeing these guys grow. Now that they’ve seen our industry, they don’t want to leave. And neither do I …