It’s the election of ‘more.’ All political parties talk about more houses, more development, more investment, more opportunity. But how is the construction sector expected to deliver all of this when it is already paralysed by a national skills crisis?
It’s the countdown to the election and the political parties are in full swing with lots of promises around improved services and, not surprisingly, shouting about the creation of more schools, hospitals and homes.
While the politicians study their spreadsheets, examine GDP and other variables and tot up the costs of these large scale capital projects, and then decide we have the cash to construct them, the question that I have is: who is going to build it all?
We all read the 80-page Farmer Report which shines a spotlight onto a troubled and over-stretched UK construction industry. What is clear is that we don’t have enough skilled people working in the industry today - let alone in the Brexit-battered future when these vast new schemes are ready to be built.
I want to know where the politicians get their figures from. They see GDP on the rise, and then decide that they can afford new major projects. But are they aligning these calculations to training? Immigration? Skills? Who is doing what I would call the practical costing of constructing major projects?
Ours is a huge industry and in order to get better, we need to change the way we understand skills in the industry. We are constantly calling for young people to join the trades, but let’s stop and think? Do we really need bricklayers? Plumbers? Electricians? The industry is constantly saying it does, but do we?
The question instead needs to be can we build in a different way? Why do we build buildings that last 500 years? Why don’t we build buildings which last only 50 years and take them down and build them again? We are already building modular homes, and we should look at similar ways of delivering projects.
Innovate UK says the industry needs to spend millions more on innovation. Let’s start with our contractors. There are 20 construction firms in the UK which together deliver £30 billion of work in the UK each year.
I have talked to a lot of these companies. These organisations are starting to think about bringing innovations into their businesses at a high level, but it’s the younger millennial staff who are the ones who are interested in innovation. They are already inspired – and so are the company bosses.
We may need more bricklayers and hands-on, physical skills today, but we need to consider the skillset people will need in the future when automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are more widely adopted by the industry.
Gerard Toplass, executive chairman at framework organisation Pagabo