Why early engagement with the workforce has to be a long-term goal for specialists

Matt Nicholson

When talking about the industry’s skills shortage, it’s easy to lose sight of what those skills actually are. Construction is often used as a generic, all-encompassing term that simplifies the various processes that those of us on the “inside” know to be challenging, exciting, and at times frustrating, but ultimately, immensely rewarding.

It is this diverse skills set that is the lifeblood of the construction industry and yet it would be fair to say that the general public’s understanding of the specialist trades is somewhat limited.

How much does the average school leaver really know about the building envelope or specialist facade market? What is their perception of what it means to be a roofing, cladding or glazing installer? We need to show them that the sky is the limit and to do this, we have to start at the grass roots.

It is vital that young people have a greater understanding of the different construction roles available to them

Without question, improving awareness and educating young people on the range of potential careers available within construction at the earliest opportunity is vital if we are to attract new talent to the specialist contractor sector. It’s not just about targeting those of an employable age but rather ensuring that young people know all their options before they embark on a chosen career path and this is why early engagement in schools and colleges is so important.

The specialist sector is more than just a manual trade and many of the career opportunities available are actually ‘off site’ Small steps such as raising awareness of the vast range of highly skilled disciplines within the specialist sector, from design and BIM management to estimating and procurement, and offering ongoing employee support through training, professional development and flexible working arrangements, can lead to big changes.

Of course such early engagement can only work if long-term opportunities are in place. It is vital that young people have a greater understanding of the different construction roles available to them but they also must be able to confidently pursue training or apprenticeships relevant to their chosen field. Here the responsibility rests firmly with the specialist companies themselves. Our sector not only has to offer more opportunities for school-age work experience placements, traditional apprenticeships and graduate training schemes but also must ensure that there is a greater link between the work experience given and the type of job that the candidates may ultimately gain.

For our part, Lakesmere has developed its own School to Work scheme, allowing us to work directly with local colleges to offer students a bespoke Lakesmere Diploma qualification in a range of disciplines relevant to our services, helping us create “work-ready” employment candidates. As well as encouraging the development of vital practical skills, offering apprenticeships on higher level frameworks for management succession planning is something that we as a company has also found very effective.

Specialist contractors are just that; specialists, experts in their chosen fields and quite often some of the most innovative companies within the construction industry. Now is the time to fly the flag for our sector to ensure that we attract and retain the very best of the next generation of employees.

Matt Nicholson is Lakesmere Group’s regional managing director (South)