The UK is on the verge of what is probably the most momentous change to its business climate since it entered the Common Market 40 years ago, and yet the construction sector is struggling to meet historical challenges, let alone those which it will inevitably face post-Brexit.
We are in an age where we are facing the retirement of the baby boomers! 22% of workers in the sector are aged between 50 and 60, compared with only nine per cent being 24 or younger. The challenge is how to transfer all that knowledge to new entrants before it is lost. Surveys repeatedly show that the construction industry is not attracting enough talent to meet growing demand. A recent BSRIA survey (November 2018) found that 78% of its member companies were having trouble finding suitably qualified workers.
Government’s approach to this has resulted in a situation where in 2018 fewer students are considering university courses for fear of the debt they will incur. Its apprenticeship scheme, for many seen as the utopian answer to encourage vocational training, is stalling, with only 114,400 overall starts between August and October 2017 compared with 155,700 in the same period in 2016.
Recent announcements allowing levy payments to more easily flow down through the supply chain are welcome attempts to reverse this trend. In the BSRIA survey, 64% of firms in the sector are planning to recruit apprentices over the next three years to help plug the skills gap.
Stagnant productivity is also a major problem, with a recent World Economic Forum study found that the construction industry’s productivity advancements have been “meagre” compared to those in the rest of the world’s industries during the last 50 years. The study reported that the construction industry has actually lost productivity over the last 40 years.
Government has set industry a target to lower greenhouse emissions by 50 per cent by 2025. While admiring ambition, some would say this may be unrealistic. According to the UK Green Building Council, the construction and maintenance of buildings and other structures is responsible for around half of CO2 emissions in the UK.
Bsria has said the UK will not be able to address these issues without focusing on the provision of vocational training in our industry. Short courses, in particular, offer the opportunity for exposure to the latest ideas, technologies, processes and techniques leading to an increase in our capacity to adopt new methods and technologies. From these foundations will spring improvements to productivity.
The development of training modules aimed at recent entrants to the sector will make them more productive more quickly, improve worker motivation and reduce staff turnover and absenteeism. Training in the latest project management and construction methods will ultimately improve work quality, leading to better customer satisfaction and improvement in the wellbeing of building occupants.