Report highlights management and renewables skills as problem areas

Poor management and leadership skills, and limited skills competence within environmental technologies hinder productivity in the building services sector.

SummitSkills, the Sector Skills Council for building services engineering, has published new research outlining ten factors that influence the sector’s productivity. These have been identified following extensive research and discussions with employers in the sector.

SummitSkills found that leadership and management skills are a major area of weakness in building services and one where specific action is needed.

Businesses often assume that ‘good’ craftspeople, whose technical skills enable them to excel, also possess the ability to become competent managers. This research found that the majority of companies surveyed said their managers did not hold a management qualification. Where they did train their managers, there was a wide range of qualifications used and only a small percentage was sector-specific. Consequently, the BSE sector rarely trains its staff in managerial and leadership techniques and has difficulty in allowing managers the time to take managerial courses. Where managers have gained formal qualifications, they are deemed suitably qualified for management, although evidence suggests this may not be the case.

Keith Marshall OBE, chief executive of SummitSkills, explained why this is a concern: “There is no coherent set of management qualifications on offer for the sector to improve its skills. The confusion about management qualifications and the poor uptake of management training has led us to believe that these issues could be a key cause of low productivity in the sector, compared to international competitors, rather than skill deficiencies in craft operatives, as has previously been suggested.

“SummitSkills and our partners need to identify a clear suite of ‘fit for purpose’ management qualifications that are available in formats that are easy and attractive to engage with.”

SummitSkills has also drawn attention to the sector’s reluctance to engage in the renewables market as potentially damaging to productivity, as it will encourage international competition to gain entry. A large number of companies are said to be awaiting market developments and government legislation before they are willing to invest the finance and resource required to train their operatives. The current supply of training opportunities is consequently inadequate, due to low demand, and the minimal training in renewables that does exist remains largely in the domain of manufacturers.

“A sudden increase in the use of environmental technologies will create a heavy demand for training, which the supplier network will be unable to meet,” warned Keith Marshall. “Productivity performance in the sector may well fall further behind foreign competition, as craft operatives become less skilled compared to their overseas counterparts.

“To create a balance of training supply and employer demand, SummitSkills will work with providers to ensure that the relevant technologies are offered, in the relevant regions and nations where the markets are likely to develop”