The skills shortage is regularly cited as one of the key worries for businesses in the UK and it presents a challenging brief for Government to respond to.
Please allow me to start by congratulating Kit Malthouse on his appointment as Education Secretary – a fresh new school year for students at all levels up and down the country is underway and his appointment represents a fresh chance make a positive, long-lasting impact on the skills agenda. Consistent and clear support is urgently needed and I remain hopeful the new hand at the tiller will be able to provide it.
Skills for the construction sector
In my own sector, construction, skills development and availability is one of the key challenges being faced by the industry and widely tipped to be an even more pressing concern in the future. The recent projection by the Construction Skills Network is that more than a quarter million extra workers will be needed by 2026 to meet growing demands on the UK construction sector. All UK regions have a need for new construction workers in the tens of thousands and the South East Midlands is no exception.
Our construction skills shortages are affected by a myriad of factors:
- strong volumes of work requiring more hands,
- older workers leaving the industry,
- fewer EU nationals in our workforce,
- difficulties in attracting and retaining under-represented sections of the workforce, in particular women and ethnic minorities and,
- negative perceptions and lack of knowledge about what the industry has to offer.
Construction companies of all sizes have made incredible progress in making our industry more inclusive, welcoming, and attractive but, much more needs to be done and the role our Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) play cannot be underestimated. Despite the recent re-focusing of activity and responsibilities for LEPs, skills and the development of local talent pipelines has remained a key and busy area of activity.
What actions are we already taking?
In the South East Midlands, it all starts with the depth of knowledge and local connection SEMLEP has with all the key industries in our region, not just construction. From that ongoing dialogue and cooperation the team gains a clear understanding of needs, not just for today, but for tomorrow too. Skills agendas are fully informed by local employers and connections with education bodies at all levels made so that our young people can be inspired and informed, able to experience real workplaces and aware of the career pathways and opportunities available to them.
Sounds easy? After all, it’s about inspiring youngsters, a bit of work experience, maybe a jobs board, isn’t it?
Wrong. Take construction and the job we have inspiring young people by naming me three construction roles.
If your first thought was bricklayer, electrician, plumber or carpenter you would have unknowingly demonstrated one of the problems that afflict us as an industry. Construction is about so much more than a handful of trades – we have architects, structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, project managers, cost consultants, quantity surveyors, construction managers, administrators, 3D modellers, plant operators … I could go on all day!
It is the role of SEMLEP to help companies in the industry translate the plethora of opportunity available to educators and connect us together so that the right curriculums are developed and the wealth of opportunity and roles made known to students at different stages in their learning.
As an industry, there are so many entry points to join us – from trainees, to apprenticeships to graduates, we are able to provide an exciting career to suit all interests.
How do you get young people interested in the first place?
Local site visits for kids of all ages provide a look behind the hoarding and an opportunity to see what a real Bob the Builder does. School career fairs allow students to meet young people from a diverse range of backgrounds already developing their careers in the sector. Structured work-experience organised and matched with SEMLEP’s assistance to offer the right opportunities to local, talented youngsters so real workplace conditions can be experienced and the dream of having a career in construction started.
A career. Not a job. In how many industries can you start as a graduate quantity surveyor and wind up as Regional Managing Director some 20 odd years afterwards? I didn’t hear it as a rumour, that’s exactly the route the MD of my business took into the sector.
Technology plays an increasingly key role in attracting and retaining talent – for a generation raised on Minecraft, designing buildings using the latest BIM 3D software feels natural (just add gravity). Exoskeletons able to provide ergonomic strength to all are a cool gadget, remotely operated plant effectively removes access barriers to the disabled and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) allows a new generation to work in factory conditions and increase safety on site to boot.
But let’s not leave the future of my industry, or yours, to chance and future innovation – we must continue to have support in place, through SEMLEP, to help business leaders attract and retain talent today and tomorrow.
Written by Neus Garriock
Head of Business Development, Galliford Try and SEMLEP’s Deputy Chair