A skills change is needed to address the skills shortage
Peter Jacobs says that we need to look to further afield – including the manufacturing sector – in the search for new talent to join the industry.
It is widely reported that there is a skills shortage in UK construction. We have an ageing population in current management positions and a situation where large salaries in post-recession growth markets such as the Middle East is tempting skilled labour away from the UK. This is resulting in the growing gap between the old and new construction generations and is leaving the industry open to risk just as construction is booming in some UK markets.
In addition a rapidly changing industry will present an additional skills challenge. The skills that are now required across the construction industry are starting to differ from those previously deemed as traditional. Knowledge and skills in areas such as materials technology, sustainability, leadership, BIM and logistics will be in demand and competition for this capability will become intense as the industry moves towards a more digital era and the focus changes from managing cost and time to an efficiency-based approach.
A government drive towards the use of BIM and other efficiency measures will require a wider training and development programme and the courses and training opportunities that have been previously available won’t necessarily suit future generations. Cost managers and quantity surveyors will need different expertise in areas such as procurement to work efficiently with BIM, as the model of procuring packages changes.
Knowledge on methods to deliver sustainable construction will also grow more important as environmental considerations appear more frequently on the supply chain checklist and influence the planning agenda.
So with the skills gap growing and a prediction of 182,000 industry jobs being created by 2018, how are we going to fill them? How do we attract around one million NEETS – young people not in education, employment or training – towards construction
Perhaps pitching the industry differently in a context of what the future will look like would highlight areas of interest that would resonate with young people, offering a career option that they possibly hadn’t previously considered and encourage the uptake of construction apprenticeships.
To fill the current skilled labour gap, part of the solution could be seeking resource from other industries or vocations such as manufacturing or the armed forces. Transferring skills and using the already skilled workforce in the market to meet the current needs in areas such as logistics and leadership could replenish dwindling resources. Initiatives such as Buildforce, a CITB funded programme designed to get service leavers into the construction industry, are already in place, increasing industry awareness and generating skilled people.
Aligning skill sets from other industries may also identify opportunities to recruit from different graduate pools than those traditionally considered, or attract experienced talent from elsewhere. For instance, as Wilson James we employ our director of logistics at Heathrow who uses his extensive experience gained in the manufacturing industry to drive efficiency in logistics. John Spottiswood also uses approaches that we in construction find unfamiliar, such as change management techniques and “Kaizen” problem solving, which can be applied in any situation, from the office to a factory to a construction sites.
As austerity measures and the push for making construction faster, leaner and more innovative carry on into 2015, pressure will continue on the industry to organise itself to deliver. However, with no solutions likely to emerge soon to address the skills gap, maybe it is time to learn from others and utilise the diverse talent pool in the UK to build a competitive advantage.
If we adapt to change and embrace the new generation, nurturing their digital skills while providing hands on construction experience, we could reduce the gap as the market grows and prepare us well for the next cycle.
Peter Jacobs PPCIOB is a non-executive director of Wilson James