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Key to solving skills crisis is ‘greater collaboration’ between builders and subcontractors

Words: Laura Edgar
Construction / Shutterstock_303640871

Greater collaboration between house builders and their subcontractors is essential if the industry is to address its skills shortage and continue to increase output.

A new report making the case for collaboration in the supply chain also says that providing subcontractors with better visibility on future work, prompt payment and sharing training resources would help to enable them to grow and therefore increase output.

The report is the first by Home Building Skills Partnership (HBSP), a body put together by the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). It aims to make sure the industry has the skills it needs to deliver housing.

The industry relies on subcontract labour, and if 230,000 homes a year are to be built, the report says house builders need to shift its “current culture and strategic mindset from one that is formulated around supply chain procurement […] to one of proactive and consistent supply chain development”.

Based on research conducted with 20 large UK house builders and 204 subcontractors, it suggests that:

  • Two-thirds of subcontractors want to grow through house building;

  • Builders and subcontractors have mutual objectives – profitable work, positive reputations, safe and productive sites;

  • 57 per cent of subcontractors are planning to increase direct employment in the next year;

  • Only 50 per cent of subcontractors are confident they can meet house builders’ needs;

  • Critical shortages include ground workers, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, roofers and painters; and

  • Without greater collaboration, supply chain capacity increases will be limited.

The report recommends that house builders give greater visibility to their future pipeline of work at regional levels and to reduce the half-year and year-end pressures. Additionally, house builders should pay promptly, make the training they have in place available for subcontractors and consider mandating subcontractor training.

Subcontractors should, the report suggests, “proactively” engage with house builders and the partnership over workloads, recruitment and training.

It also calls on the partnership and CITB to take the recommendations forward to develop solutions that would lead to increased cooperation and more joined-up training processes, aimed at increasing the number of apprentices.

John Tutte, chair of HBSP, said: “The relationship between home builders and subcontractors is absolutely critical in terms of how the industry recruits and delivers and it is imperative that we work more closely together. The report provides some key insight into how we can collaborate more effectively to deliver improved training processes and ultimately increase capacity. We will now work closely with industry stakeholders to act on the recommendations as part of our wider drive to tackle the skills challenge we face.”

Steve Radley, director of policy, CITB, added: “The new partnership and the evidence it has brought together offers the best opportunity in years to foster much closer working in the sector, which will improve skills, help companies become more productive and cost-effective, and ultimately help us build the homes we need.”

The report can be found here (pdf). 

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