With the EU referendum, starter homes initiative and various other policies throwing more uncertainty into the labour market, construction businesses can still increase skills

Dan Germann

The construction industry currently stands at somewhat of an impasse. With conversation, confusion and debate still continuing over various policies and plans including, but not limited to, the EU referendum, the Housing and Planning Act, Right to Buy, Pay to Stay, Starter Homes initiative and the Mayor of London’s plans for housing, it’s difficult to see a clear road ahead.  For many construction businesses, it’s simply ‘business as usual’ but how does this take us forward, especially when we are in the grip of a housing crisis that needs solving? With so much emphasis on policy and targets, it’s easy for many in the industry to forget that, whatever the outcome of policy changes and initiatives, it is people who build the houses the UK needs, not companies.

Construction businesses are aware of the need to bring in new talent and the challenges that they face as a result – we’ve been talking about it for years now - but perhaps they aren’t ready to make wholesale changes under so much confusion. For my business it’s about putting people and skills at the forefront of what we do. There needs to be a strong focus across the construction industry on solutions which are routinely bringing new people through the recruitment and training process, with an additional focus on developing the people inside the industry and bringing trainees and apprentices into businesses, quicker.

The recent Economic Affairs Committee’s ‘Building More Homes’ report and the Resolution Foundation’s study into home ownership made for interesting reading for an industry already under pressure to deliver more homes and showed the true scale of the challenge ahead both for building houses and employing the staff needed to do so. The Building More Homes report states, quite clearly, that local authorities are keen to meet that challenge and recommends that the Government should make it easier for them to enter into partnerships with housing associations to meet requirements. However, it is imperative that these partnerships are also created with housebuilders as well as institutional investors.

After all, it is the housebuilders and the construction companies, who come into contact with local communities and are able to drive forward-thinking recruitment and employment schemes into these communities most effectively. It is often unique partnership models, created by housebuilders that support this by not only assisting Local Authorities to reach their housebuilding and employment targets, but also adds the benefit of increasing community cohesion whilst sharing risk and profit, making it worthwhile for all parties.

For example, the Keepmoat Kickstart scheme is a brilliant initiative that is included in all partnership programmes. It is a real stepping stone for people looking to secure work in the construction or  building-related industries.

The Kickstart initiative is an innovative, structured training programme that can be tailored to meet a specific regional or community need. Its capability and flexibility also allows it to be one of, or a mixture of, a back into work initiative, a pre-employment programme and pre-apprenticeship training, giving employment opportunities to all.

As a result of this kind of initiative, 9% of Keepmoat’s staff, totalling 3,500 in all, is made up of apprentices, trainees or graduates - well above the industry average of 5% - and the business has committed to growing that by 20%. Each year, over 3,000 courses are undertaken at Keepmoat with 159 attendees having progressed into apprenticeships and 51 gaining employment with the company. Apprentice retention rates have increased from 75% to 98% and vitally, the business has been able to employ a more diverse workforce with 27% being female compared to the industry norm of 9% amongst contractors.

Schemes like this, as part of a wider partnership programme, show that investment in the right kind of training and job creation to improve and protect future businesses can easily be brought to life and can create tangible benefits to all communities.

Construction, though has a huge range of jobs within it so the industry needs people with different skills, expertise, experience and backgrounds. Construction is more than a career for skilled bricklayers, carpenters and electricians. Although they are critical, construction businesses also need IT experts, surveyors, lawyers, designers and process managers at all stages in their careers. Vital in the process of hiring a diverse workforce is an ethos that enables contractors to continue to invest in the communities where they work over long periods of time, providing valuable training and employment opportunities that leave a lasting legacy and encourage more people to get back in to work or begin a new career close to home. An ethos that can only truly be created through long term partnerships with local authorities and housing associations.

Ultimately, all these initiatives and a joined-up approach from the industry is required to ensure the skills shortage is addressed in the short term and in the long term, completely eradicated. A proactive approach today towards employment and training will help to ensure we meet the country’s housing needs and place the industry in far better shape for the future.

Dan Germann is managing director for Keepmoat London & Southern Developments