The latest Construction Industry Training Board skills forecast highlights the problem. It states that the industry needs to find 76,000 new construction workers a year – 65,000 to replace the rapidly ageing workforce, and 11,000 to take on the predicted increase in building work.
In an attempt to boost the number of people with construction skills, the government recently outlined plans to introduce eight vocational GCSEs. Though welcoming the proposals, the Construction Confederation believes the government has not gone far enough. It says construction skills should be included in a further set of vocational GCSEs to be introduced to 14 year olds.
The confederation says the government is putting too much money into academic courses at the expense of vocational training. With degrees costing £25,000 a year and apprentice fees only costing £1500, the confederation argues that construction should get a larger share of the spoils.
To ease the immediate skills crisis, the government this week announced that thousands of construction workers would be allowed into the UK on so-called "working holidays": it is currently drawing up a quota scheme that will allow immigrants into the country for up to six months. This practical measure would be in addition to the scheme for workers from Commonwealth countries, which enables those aged 17-27 to come to the UK for two years.
Another set of figures released this week suggest that the shortage in construction workers is so acute that firms can't afford to let workers take time off to get trained. According to the Movement for Innovation, the average construction worker received only three days of training last year.
These figures are being used by the M4I as a benchmark for a new training key performance indicator. The M4I is hopeful that the industry will catch up with the few companies that are managing to provide 20 days' training a year.
More training is key to attracting young people into the industry, and calming the fears of parents. Construction's reputation for safety is so poor that some parents are accompanying their children to sites to check that their training is being properly supervised. A training KPI is at least one step in the right direction – and will at least reveal to parents how much training their offspring are really receiving.