Let's show them what we can do
After the election, the industry must build a mutually beneficial relationship with the new government - one that is based on self-reliance, says Mark Beard.
The general election is nearly upon us and it is looking increasingly likely that Theresa May will be returned to 10 Downing Street, almost definitely with an increased majority. What does this mean for the construction industry and how can we ensure that our priorities are heard?
Brexit and the key associated issues of security, trade and immigration are likely to dominate political thinking over the next few years – which on the surface could make it very difficult for construction to gain a fair hearing. However, looking back to the time of our last female prime minister gives us a very strong steer to how we can ensure we are heard.
In my view, taking a leaf out of Lord Young’s book is the best way of getting noticed by those presiding in the corridors of power. During the 1980s, Lord Young was secretary of state for employment and subsequently secretary of state for trade and industry. Legend has it he was Margaret Thatcher’s favourite minister.
Where every other minister brought her problems, Lord Young brought her solutions – in the process increasingly gaining the prime minister’s ear and favour.
Giving individuals a career start
Although it is likely the new government will continue to focus its efforts on major exporting industries, I believe construction has several very proud achievements to communicate – as well as highlighting areas, we can make rapid improvement, which will strongly support the government as it grapples with the secondary challenges arising from Brexit.
Probably our industry’s proudest achievement is the life and career choices we give many thousands of individuals who enter our industry without a formal university education. At Beard, we recruit each year four men and women directly from school as apprentice carpenters, bricklayers and surveyors.
"Where other ministers brought problems, Lord Young brought solutions - in the process gaining the prime minister's ear."
Many progress to become site managers, project managers and contract managers, giving each individual a great start in their career and the company a very strong cultural core. Recently, we were delighted to appoint Dean Averies as our Oxford construction director, 25 years after exchanging his school blazer for safety helmet, boots and high-vis jacket.
Ensuring that the CIOB’s excellent recent report Social Mobility and Construction: Building routes to opportunity is at the top of the reading list for Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Teresa May’s joint chiefs of staff, would be a good start – but only a start.
The next step is a 10-year road map with clear yearly milestones showing how the industry can complement the new government’s agenda by:
- Supporting more fully the life chances of individuals from poorer backgrounds;
- Increasing the number of people who successfully complete industry entry qualifications;
- Retaining a higher proportion of the individuals we train;
- Improving the health of everyone who works in our industry; and
- Raising our own productivity, thus allowing us to do more with fewer people – facilitating the downturn in immigration that so many people in this country crave, while avoiding a skills-crisis cliff edge.
Overcoming the issues delaying the setting-up of the proposed Nine Elms construction college in London – planned by Lambeth College, Carillion and Arlington but recently put on hold as a result of merger talks between Lambeth College with South Bank University – would be a major statement of intent.
All of these proposals should strike a chord with Theresa May and her “just about managing” agenda. Two years of self help, hitting the milestones in the road map, will put us in a much stronger position to request government support for pet construction industry projects.
In construction, we often proclaim that we are different to all other industries – how better to prove this than by being the one industry that brings the government solutions rather than just problems?
Mark Beard is chairman of Beard Construction