BRIDGING THE CONSTRUCTION SKILLS GAP

By Simon Storer, Chief Executive of the Insulation Manufacturers Association, Read his exclusive column every month in Insulate Magazine

Industries such as construction are in a permanent state of innovation with products, practices and materials constantly evolving. Sadly, the sector is in the midst of an ever-widening and critical skills shortage, with younger talent in short supply. With the demand for tradespeople across all sectors of the construction industry outstripping supply, this labour crisis is a key constraint to the housebuilding industry severely impacting the quality of new buildings, the ability to build to budget and ensuring that all performance characteristics meet both design and regulatory requirements. How can the construction industry put in place measures that might put an end to the skills gap?

The contributing factors of the construction skills shortage are well documented; from an ageing workforce not being replaced, to a younger generation not seeing the industry as an attractive and viable option. Brexit has only added to the industry-wide fear over the building skills’ shortage. Of the UK’s 270,653 migrant construction force, about 45% are workers from EU countries. When or if the UK’s divorce from the continent is finalised, there is a real fear that many employees who have arrived from overseas will leave, taking their building skills and experience with them. 

Inspiring the next generation to take-up a career in construction is fundamental to filling the current skills’ gap over the long-term. Changing the outdated and negative perceptions of the industry is part of this. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) recently asked a group of 14 to 19-year-olds which careers interested them – construction only scored 4.2 out of 10. According to the survey, young people claimed that construction means ‘being outdoors and getting dirty’. Young people overlook the fact a career in construction is incredibly diverse and is an industry with cutting-edge technologies, such as robotics, digitisation and modular building techniques – key to attracting a tech savvy younger generation. Companies in the industry need to reach out and engage with students, parents and teachers to create a better image of construction, right through from manufacturing, engineered solutions to site management. In my own sector, the manufacturing of PIR insulation produces a high tech, highly engineered product, manufactured to exacting standards.  The finished article plays a key role in the energy performance of buildings and requires skilful, knowledgable employees, both during the manufacturing phase as well as during the installation phase.

The industry needs to expand its recruitment and attract more women and people from ethnic diversities, which are currently under-represented. Women represent just 13% of the workforce, a shocking statistic considering the skills shortage. A fundamental shift towards inclusiveness is necessary while a joined-up approach between industry, the government and education sector – beginning with young people at primary school and then throughout education – will pave the way towards a more inclusive and accessible industry.

Degree apprenticeships

The government has launched a number of initiatives to help plug the skills gap and has set a target of three million new apprentices by 2020 across all sectors. A £34 million investment in construction training and an apprenticeship levy – estimated to raise £3 billion a year – might go some way to securing a skilled and stable workforce.

Alternative educational models such as part-time degree apprenticeships will also widen the route into the industry. They combine undergraduate university experience with paid employment and industrial experience. Degree apprenticeships in construction and the built environment cover the gap where graduates have degrees but lack a strong skills base when they enter the working environment. These degrees take things one step further by having an employer as a partner in the delivery of the course. They effectively offer a fully-funded pathway to higher education and professional qualification which is funded by the government and the employer.

The built environment is evolving all the time and the demand for construction has never been greater which means addressing the skills’ gap is now more critical than ever. It is down to construction companies, the government and our educational system to play their part in closing the skills’ shortage gap.

For more information about the Insulation Manufacturers Association please visit www.insulationmanufacturers.org.uk

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