Construction needs to think seriously about how to get more of the UK’s huge number of unemployed young people into the industry. A recent report has some simple suggestions
One of the questions about the construction industry I hear asked most frequently is why it does not do more to train unemployed youngsters to fill the job vacancies that we know will arise over the next few years.
The figures show the scale of the problem. The CITB estimates suggests that over 180,000 vacancies in the industry will need to be filled by 2018. Yet the number of young people in construction apprenticeships is falling. Just 7,280 completed an apprenticeship in 2013, half the number five years earlier. Inevitably, given this shortage of trained young people, the industry is once again looking abroad for recruits. This cannot be right or sensible for one of the country’s largest and most important industries.
So, looking for a better way forward, a group of parliamentarians chaired by Lord Richard Best and myself initiated an inquiry into improving opportunities for unemployed youngsters to find jobs in construction. The inquiry received written and oral evidence from a wide range of individuals and organisations and published its findings and conclusions last month. The report, No More Lost Generations, attracted considerable attention both from within the industry and more widely, and we hope it will act as a wake-up call for a real improvement.
Our conclusions were not unexpected, but were no less important for that. There is no single magic bullet. A number of different strategies will be required. Starting early, we must do more to improve understanding in schools of the hugely exciting and varied opportunities available for those who want to make a career in construction. The industry still suffers from negative stereotypes, and teachers are too often inclined to advise pupils against joining the industry. We have to change these attitudes and make it easier for young people to find an appropriate route into construction, whether through apprenticeships or degree-level qualifications.
Training courses must be better linked to the type of jobs likely to be available, and we must do more to reduce the drop-out rate from apprenticeships and other training programmes.
We cannot afford to continue with tokenistic training obligations that do not lead to worthwhile outcomes
Local authorities and other public sector agencies have the opportunity, through the procurement process and planning system, to require developers and construction companies to commit to including relevant and effective training as part of the contracts they win. But the targets must be both realistic and achievable, and progress towards meeting them must be monitored. We cannot afford to continue with tokenistic training obligations that do not lead to worthwhile outcomes.
Above all we need to secure much greater commitment and buy-in from industry leaders. With almost 1 million young people in the UK not in employment, education or training, we cannot simply muddle through, depending on an ageing workforce and a further influx of east Europeans.
For that reason the report calls for a high-level summit - to be convened by the CITB and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with backing from the Construction Leadership Council - to bring together contractors, consultants, specialists, manufacturers, housebuilders, local authorities and social landlords to get behind a new industry-wide commitment to train and employ youngsters currently without a job.
A similar summit in 2001 launched a game-changing commitment to improving health and safety in the industry. As a result we have seen real advances in reducing fatalities and injuries and improving awareness across the industry. This is not to say the problems have been eradicated. They haven’t, as the recent tragic death on the Crossrail scheme showed. But compared with where we were 15 years ago, there has been great improvement in policy and practice. We only have to compare our fatality-free Olympics in 2012 with the appalling catalogue of deaths and injuries in Qatar as they prepare to host the Fifa World Cup, to see the progress we have made.
We need to achieve a similar advance in training and employment practice. So I was very pleased by the warm welcome given to our report’s recommendations, including a commitment from James Wates, chairman of the CITB, to establish a commission to review the organisation’s apprenticeship strategy leading up to a summit before the end of this year. A similar positive response from the other key players will help to ensure that we do at last tackle this long-standing problem.
Nick Raynsford MP is honorary vice-chairman of the Construction Industry Council and a former construction minister