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The Skills Challenge Ahead

In order to meet the Government’s target of building 300,000 news homes, the construction industry needs to introduce 217,000 new workers into the workforce by 2025 to meet the housing demand.

The construction industry is facing a huge problem with recruitment of labour that is suitably qualified for the work as well as retaining the workforce it already has. Being able to keep skilled workers is really important, not only to ensure that companies have a constant and reliable employment rate, but also to help the construction industry have more job and financial security and therefore encourage more people to enter the sector and provide more training in new roles.

The root of this problem goes right back to the initial training and education of the workforce and the barriers that the current system has that prevent new joiners entering the sector. Introducing more training apprenticeships from post-16 education will have many benefits for the industry and for all parties involved, however there are some challenges that need addressing by industry experts and policy makers, so everyone experiences the full value of these training apprenticeships. The main barriers for greater uptake of apprenticeships include lack of understanding of career paths, roles, and access points, schools pressing for university education, and sadly, parental opinion of the sector.

Apprenticeships in construction are a great way of building up work skills, getting valuable on-site experience, learning and earning on the job, and gaining essential knowledge of the industry first hand. It can be difficult for a learner to start work straight out of college without really understanding their trade and profession beyond what is taught in a classroom. Currently, NFB members say that there is a major disconnect between college learning and true working lifestyle. Too many learners who start working in the industry to leave the profession as it wasn’t what they expected because the college didn’t prepare them for the reality of working on site. Colleges should do more to introduce, nurture, and recognise all careers paths within construction and thoroughly explain all the roles and transferrable skills that the industry can offer. A good way to achieve this is to bring in industry professionals into education and training centres to discuss roles, experiences, and joys of working in the sector. In addition, colleges need to make sure their training is up to date with changing and upcoming technologies. There are new and emerging skills, techniques, and knowledge that needs to be a key part of training for new learners which will not only help them have a long and successful career but also encourage the businesses they are joining to be much more forward-thinking in their investment in new ways of working.

The NFB sees that planning reform is key to enabling and developing skills and training. The ongoing House Builders Association (HBA) survey, which monitors the planning challenges facing its members, shows that 43% of respondents said they had reduced directly employed labour due to planning uncertainty of delay. 57% said that ‘no pipeline of work’ and ‘lack of planning certainty’ stopped them from taking on more apprentices. 29% identified that quality of apprentices or workers hampered them. The Department of Education (DfE) and The Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) needs to be pushing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to reform planning so their learners can actually train and subsequently be retained.

In December 2020, CITB produced a report on ‘Learning to earning: Increasing the number of further education (FE) learners who enter the construction industry’. The aim of this report was to better understand the barriers to learners joining the construction sector and to outline potential solutions. Some of the barriers to progression mentioned in the report include recruitment practices in large parts of the sector that remain informal and linked to families and friends, meaning that recruiting the most talented people from diverse backgrounds will be hindered until modern recruitment techniques are introduced. Additionally, the English and Maths GCSE resit requirement caused lots of frustration for many leaners, as some believe these qualifications are out of their reach and therefore their progression into the industry through an apprenticeship is blocked. For employers, the barriers centre mostly around the attitude of the young person and their willingness to adapt to the site environment, for example, willingness to work long hours and on occasion in bad weather, as well as general lack of onsite experience from college. The perception and narrative around construction is also seen as a barrier for employers. A lack of diversity within the sector that could perpetuate the view that jobs aren’t available to people of all backgrounds.

The value of apprenticeship is immeasurable, and apprenticeship schemes allows companies to counteract any problems that might arise due to an ageing workforce or difficulty in recruitment. Employers are able to train their own staff and give young people the opportunity to be introduced into the industry. Although there are some details and challenges that need to be ironed out in regard to training and retention, the main view is that apprenticeships aren’t a cost, instead they are an investment into a sustainable future.

– Mia Silverfield, Political Communications Apprentice, NFB

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