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29/06/2017

Construction industry lays bare the skills shortage

Words: Laura Edgar
Constuction apprentices / Shutterstock_303640871

An ageing workforce and an unattractive image of the job means the construction industry is lacking the skills and capacity to deliver the homes the country needs, an audience at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference heard.

In a session titled ‘How do we address the skills crisis?’ Charlie Scherer, COO at construction contractor Willmott Partnership Homes, said a lack of skills is the “single biggest obstacle to us meeting our housing targets”.

The country has a “bulging demographic”.

“My estimate is that we have 80,000 workers coming off the wheel annually. In terms of new apprenticeships in the last five years, we only have 20,000 coming on a year. That’s a shortfall of 60,000,” Scherer said.

He referred to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which states that the construction industry needs to recruit a further 700,000 workers just to cover the retiring population.

Alan Yeats, executive director of regeneration at housing association Accord Group, noted the Farmer Review. It suggests that 11 per cent in the construction industry are under 24 while 30 per cent are over 50. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” Yeats said.

That is before Brexit is taken into consideration.

Yeats pointed to the Arcadis Talent Scale, which suggests that 400,000 additional workers per year are needed to deliver the housing and infrastructure required – 370,000 in the house building sector alone.

Depending on a soft or hard Brexit, the country could lose 136,000 to 214,000 workers.

So, what is Accord doing?

Yeats said the housing association started looking at offsite construction, but could find nowhere in the UK that did what the company wanted, so they imported houses from Norway for five to six years.

Then five or six years ago, it decided to start manufacturing themselves.

“When we did this, one of the things our board said to us is we would like you to take people, particularly our tenants and their children and get them into work. So these were people that had no work experience, no skills, we have got them working in our factory that come from third-generation unemployed families and they have gained their NVQs and are now manufacturing a high-quality product.”

Accord is now supplying other housing associations and working on a model offering housing associations across the country to set up a manufacturing facility.

In addition to considering offsite construction, Colin Molton, COO at the Homes and Communities Agency, said the image of the sector needs to change. It isn’t attractive to young people, he said. “We need to do something different, engage them using social media.

“Young people want to do different things from the sector, but there is no reason why with investment we can’t make the sector very attractive for our young people.”

* The session formed part of the second day at Housing 2017, the Chartered Institute of Housing's conference.


Read more:

Farmer Review puts strong case for change in construction sector

Report: 400,000 workers needed to bridge construction skills ‘gulf’


Image credit | Shutterstock

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