Britain is in urgent need of plumbers, engineers and builders as it encounters its biggest skills shortage for a generation which threatens to disrupt projects just as the economy is starting to recover from the recession.
Major companies have warned that talent gaps across key sectors have been caused by a continuing decline in apprenticeships. In 2014, Government statistics showed a 33% decline in construction apprenticeship starts and completions whilst the annual Construction skills Network report found that on average, the industry needs 36,400 new entrants a year over the next five years to keep up with demand.
Research conducted by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) in 2014 also indicated that 1 in 20 contractors were at risk of going under due to a shortfall of skills and a lack of talent joining the industry. Whilst recent reports have expressed that some of the largest construction companies have disclosed that they have had to turn down bidding opportunities due to a shortage of skilled labour.
So what’s the problem?
There are several issues provoking the skills shortage in the UK, including negative perceptions of the industry, a lack of apprenticeship opportunities and not enough awareness or understanding of the roles that are currently available.
There is a common view that schools are not doing enough to promote more hands-on trades based careers as well as apprenticeships as they are deemed by some as being for less academic people. This is a dated stereotype as there are many skilled trades which require a high-level of technical ability and apprenticeships enable young people to learn on the job, gaining hands-on experience whilst getting paid at the same time. Additionally, as the current market is recovering faster-than-expected following the recession, those who are willing to plug the gap are getting heavily rewarded financially for their work.
A lack of commitment in the industry to train young people has also been regarded by some as a direct result of the skills shortage as many companies in the industry fail to invest in the future and focus instead on maximising their short-term profits. Dereth Wood, Director of Learning, Strategy and Policy at Learndirect, acknowledges this issue saying: “Businesses need to start thinking about how they can build their staff from the bottom up. Apprenticeships offer a great solution to this problem. They allow an employer to recruit someone into that role with the right attitude and work ethic, whilst providing the training needed to build the specific skills lacking in other candidates. Young people in particular often bring fresh thinking and enthusiasm into a company which provides an excellent basis on which to build their skill set”.
Another issue further fuelling the skills shortage is that although the needs of the industry are changing, training providers are not keeping pace with that change. It is crucial that training courses are adapted to reflect the growing needs of the industry, evolving technology and ultimately where future work will be. Managing Director of Engineering at NG Bailey, Mike Darlington acknowledges this saying “We constantly need to be refreshing the skills in the industry and adapting them to the needs in the market.”
In partnership with the UK Contractors Group (UKCG), City & Guilds is launching an ‘Open Doors weekend’ from 6th-7th March giving young people the opportunity to visit a major construction site to see what happens on a modern construction project. The event which will coincide with National Careers week (2nd-6th March) will give young people a chance to learn more and ask questions about the careers the industry has to offer. To find out more please visit City & Guilds.