Are industry breakthroughs key to ending the skills shortage?
As the world catches its collective breath in the wake of the news that Brooklyn Beckham has passed his GCSEs, the UK construction industry continues to experience a dramatic skills shortage and fears abound that housing demand cannot meet supply.
Since 2009, the number of young people taking up apprenticeships in the construction and engineering sector has fallen by a staggering 60%. A recent survey by the Federation of Master Builders revealed that two-thirds of SMEs have also been forced to turn down work due to a lack of properly skilled staff.
In short, the industry needs around 35,000 new apprentices in order to keep up with the demand for new housing alone. However, in 2013, just 7000 apprentices completed their training in construction.
According to Richard Threlfall, UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction at KPMG, this has a far-reaching impact and is detrimental to the country’s economy as a whole: “It is clear we are in the grip of an industry wide skills shortage, which shows no signs of abating,” he said.
“Businesses are struggling to find the talent they need and this will have long term implications for their growth plans and potentially impact the wider performance of the UK’s economy. In July over two fifths of recruiters reported a fall in the number of people looking for work, the steepest decline seen in eight months.
“The construction industry in particular is struggling to keep pace with demand, with businesses heavily recruiting both permanent and temporary workers. This is driving significant pay growth in the sector of almost 5%, even outstripping Britain’s surging services industry which in comparison saw pay increases of just over 3%.
“The risk is that a shortage of skilled labour in this sector could impede Britain’s major building projects and put the brakes on the country’s booming real estate market.
The likelihood is we will see no immediate improvement to this situation. We are already seeing hints of a summer slowdown, as both businesses and candidates put their job plans on hold and take holiday over August.”
Despite such worries, there’s seemingly little talk of how to re-engage boys and girls in learning the ropes of an industry that, contrary to outmoded stereotypes, is barely recognisable from its counterpart of yesteryear.
"Since 2009, the number of young people taking up apprenticeships in the construction and engineering sector has fallen by a staggering 60%."
From 3D laser scanning and robotic total stations to the advent of Building Information Management (BIM), the sector has undergone a recent and impactful revolution. Alongside promoting the stability of an industry once badly hit by recession led redundancies, there is surely an argument for promoting the technology led evolution that’s swept the sector in recent years.
Whereas, previously, apprenticeships all too often focussed almost exclusively on practical skills, there is now real need for critical and creative thinking to become a focus too. Construction and engineering have always been about much, much more than manual labour. In the face of such a chronic skills gap, conveying the scope of the careers, creativity and intelligence inherent in the sector is even more important than ever.
For the MEP sector particularly, a timely spate of positive reframing could well prove a benefit in attracting more and increasingly enthusiastic applicants into the profession. With so many exciting technical developments, including the possibilities opened up by Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) and in particular the challenges and requirements of BIM, is now a valuable opportunity to openly discuss the relative merits of working in layout in a diverse and exciting world?
In fact, should we focus as much on the technology shaping and honing the work of MEP designers and contractors, as we do the day-to-day actions that define roles in the field?
In a world where younger people are, by default, tech savvy is there a role for telling school and college students more about the software and hardware sculpting the construction industry?
As well as equipping potential apprentices with a broader, contemporary understanding of the industry than they may garner elsewhere, building such relationships now might well have a positive impact on the financial stability of the sector as a whole and that can only be good for everyone.
How do you think the skills shortage can best be solved in the industry as a whole? How do you think technology can play a role in attracting more young people into apprenticeships and, specifically, the MEP sector?