Daniel Leech member of the Buildoffsite Governing Forum and Group Director, Technical Design Services Group, discusses the opportunities for the construction industry, despite the on-going skills shortages
At every construction seminar I have attended over the past few years (and there have been a few), there are a number of recurring topics: BIM, the fourth industrial revolution, industrialisation, offsite, modern methods of construction, the housing shortfall, etc. However, one dominant, cross-cutting issue is the great skills shortages being experienced throughout the industry.
We can be in no doubt that the UK construction industry is buoyant, despite the impending threat that an uncertain Brexit deal provides to our wider economy.
This is, in the main, great news for anyone in construction. We have some fantastic infrastructure projects like HS2 and Hinkley Point. We have the housing shortage, which is creating a surge in demand for offsite and modular housing solutions. Of course, there are still traditional construction projects flying up across the UK. When you throw everything into the mix, it looks like a healthy order book for the construction industry for the foreseeable future.
The big question on everyone’s lips is going to be one of how do we deliver? How do we sustainably scale our businesses and the workforces within them? How do we capitalise on such a healthy order book? How do we innovate and take advantage of the technological advances being introduced into the industry? We believe that young people are our future. So much so, that we founded CADCOE (Construction and Design Centre of Excellence) in 2011 in order to provide a vehicle for us to attract, retain and educate young people with exactly the kind of skills our business needs.
The CADCOE model is not rocket science. We have an intensive 16-week training window at the start of the apprenticeship, where vocational skills are taught by industry experts in a professional work environment. We partner with a fantastic FE organisation, Dudley College of Technology, which is rated as Outstanding by OFSTED and delivers all of the underpinning knowledge in a state-of-the-art classroom environment called Advance 2, that has been built at a cost of £12m.
If we are going to truly address the skills shortages that exist within the construction sector, then we need to hone in on creating more of these kinds of partnerships throughout the country. It’s so easy to criticise the schools, colleges and universities by saying that ‘the qualifications are too generic’, or ‘the students aren’t work ready,’ etc. But how can a school/college/university that isn’t in the construction industry know what we need? How can they keep up-to-date with the latest innovations in an industry that is evolving so rapidly? How do they attract young talent into the sector if they don’t truly understand it like we do? For these reasons, I have a huge amount of sympathy with the education sector in navigating the stormy seas in which they sail.
However, I think we really need to challenge the mindset within the construction industry. These skills shortages represent a fantastic opportunity for us all. They represent an unprecedented opportunity for young people across the country who are eager to be given a chance and to learn whatever it is their respective trade or career will be. They represent a fantastic opportunity for educational establishments, private training providers and employers to form collaborative partnerships to ensure the qualifications and training platforms on offer meet the needs of the industry. They represent a fantastic opportunity for the industry to bring in these young people who will start to transform the culture, the mood and the thought processes that stagnate the industry.
Within our business at TDS, I am surrounded by ambitious, confident and diverse young people who add huge value to what we do as a business. Lexi (17) is working on Manchester Airport, Lora (17) is part of our European Data Centres team, Tom (21) is now running his own teams and packages of work, and Shaun (22) is working on an innovative modular volumetric scheme in central London. These are just 4 of our 11 apprentices who make such a fantastic contribution alongside our vastly experienced team.
So, this is a call to arms to anyone reading this article. Don’t just complain about the skills shortages, commit to doing SOMETHING. It may be providing an opportunity to a young person on an apprenticeship, or it may be reaching out to your local college or university to help them to develop the curriculum – but rest assured, ‘every little helps’ and by embracing the skills OPPORTUNITIES we can all help to build a better future for the industry.