Construction skills gap – a warning

  • 30 May 2014

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With the Government announcing ambitious house building plans, and development projects that were mothballed throughout the recession finally coming back online, the skills gap is one of the biggest challenges facing construction firms in 2014.
Last year the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced that 42% of construction firms are struggling to recruit workers with the right skills, while a Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) survey showed that 82% of respondents believe a skill shortage exists.

A Chartered Institute of Building survey showed that 82% of respondents believe a skill shortage exists

At Seddon, training and developing our staff is part of our DNA. It is built into our ethos as a family business and we have maintained a commitment to training an intake of young people for 75 consecutive years – including through the latest recession – with a 95% retention rate.
It was on a recent visits to Buckingham Palace with my father, Christopher, while he collected his MBE for service to apprenticeships that I was reminded of one of the many valuable business lessons that he has passed down through the company: “We train for the sector, not ourselves,” was his mantra, and that it is a lesson that some in the industry are still learning.
While it is tough for companies to justify the expense of recruiting and training apprentices to shareholders and off-shore parent companies during the lean years, it is absolutely essential that we all do our bit to ensure that we have the very best people working in our industry – both today and in 25 years’ time.
We cannot continue to pile the pressure on subcontractors to carry the load. The Government has freed up cash for training and apprenticeships, but many small businesses will struggle to access this, and we are often approached by our suppliers asking for advice on grants for training. It is putting the biggest burden on the smallest firms, and that is not sustainable.
This is why Seddon is one of the few large firms to retain a permanent labour force. Yes, there are risks, but the reward is that we know we have the right people, with the right skills to deliver for our customers.   

Careers advice should be offered in schools to inform young people of the variety of options and training schemes available in the industry

We also need to reinvent the construction industry as a brand. Too many youngsters are turned off by the industry at a very early age.
We need to assess why that is, and what we can do to make sure that the best and brightest the UK has to offer consider the sector as a viable career choice. 
Part of that responsibility falls on the Government to help us encourage a stream of people entering the industry with a range of skills and educational backgrounds.
It is clear that many of the old fashioned stigmas still remain about construction, and that starts with teachers and career advisors.
Educators still subscribe to the idea that those who do well should go on to further education, while those who under-perform will end up on-site, in a trade.
While it is understandable that teachers who have gone through higher education themselves would want to push others in the same direction, we all know that this is an outdated view.
We need to re-educate the educators so they can ensure young people know that we’re about more than laying bricks.
That could start with more vocational courses in schools to help students understand that there are ways to learn and progress outside the classroom, but also by reassuring those who want to progress to university that there are construction driven courses in higher education. 
We also need to see some fundamental changes in how careers advice is delivered in order for young people to receive the right advice from the right people who understand that there are now a variety of different career paths and training options available.

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