Our ongoing series of profiles of senior figures in UK housebuilding this week focuses on Andrew Morgan, who is a land director for Elan Homes, who tells us about his own career path and what he thinks about the skills required and opportunities available for those interested in working in the industry.
Please tell us about yourself, your current role and how you got there.
I’ve worked in the housebuilding industry since 1982 and spent a long part of my career with a major PLC. I joined Elan in August 2016 following several years of buying land with a similar sized North West company. What appealed to me about working with Elan was the range of sites and products that the business can produce, combined with the versatility of looking at the spectrum of sites available from long- to medium-term opportunities right up to the coalface requirements of working with consented land within promoters or private/public ownership.
When did you decide to head for the housebuilding industry and what was it that attracted you to it?
I knew when I was at school that I wanted to be involved in construction and after completing my time at Liverpool Building College (aka ‘the College of Bricks’) I followed my instinct and took the opportunity to work with a young growing company called Redrow. They gave me the vital start needed back in 1982. The diversity of the sites we looked at back then and more particularly the brownfield revolution that evolved was a gold mine for the risk takers of their time and those people were rewarded accordingly.
I personally got a lot of pleasure from the opportunities that came along with national greenfield development restrictions that created the brownfield needs and the adaptation and transformation of housebuilders that went with it all. With each opportunity, moving into marginal areas that might previously have been overlooked due to the blight of a derelict mill or industrial buildings gave good prospects to work with land owners and negotiate a deal and that worked positively for all. For me, it’s been a constantly changing industry to develop within and I feel I have benefited greatly from the experiences along the way.
Are there projects/mentors that have been particularly rewarding?
As with most land finders the first site you personally nurture and acquire has a great deal of significance and this came along in the form of an old paper mill which was transformed into 40 new homes. After 35 years and many miles across the UK in the land business, I still enjoy the same rewards from success and bringing sites forward. The hurdle rate to bring sites forward in today’s business is far greater than back in the day, so it’s very important you have a good back up team and that’s what I have at Elan Homes.
Is finding the right people to work for you a difficult task in the current skills shortage situation?
Land buyers in today’s business tend to follow an initial path in planning and this works out well in most cases. I personally have found the enthusiasm of any young colleagues the best asset to nurture and develop and have been lucky working with many who have gone on to be very successful in their own right. The raw material is definitely determination and enthusiasm to develop against an ever-changing environ of planning rules and regulations and the land team here are working well in these more challenging times.
Are today’s young candidates looking for the same qualities in employer and job role as you were, or are things different for them now?
The expectations of the young candidates are very different as graduates nowadays – more particularly when the majority require the right blend of planning skills along with land finding and negotiation qualities, and all these skills needs to be factored in as they develop.
What do you think needs to be done to solve the skills shortage?
It’s a growing economy and with the ongoing interest and support from government housebuilding needs to grow with it. The general perception is that it’s a people business, primarily the trades operating on site, but an immense amount of offsite professional support is required so that much-needed new homes can be built. I’m not sure that the majority of parents of young people know that the latter is a full and satisfying employment prospect. The opportunity to educate parents, teachers and young people with the necessary facts on the housebuilding workplace should be expanded. I wouldn’t be surprised if housebuilding is still widely overlooked as a direct option by many school leavers.
Does your expanding company expect to have a number of roles available in the short/medium term?
Elan a relatively young company, formed in 2008, but we’re an ambitious, experienced team with an appetite for growth. The business now employs more than 80 people in a variety of disciplines. We will always be seeking new staff to cover roles that are becoming available and these include opportunities within the land department. We’ve launched a new website which includes a careers section, with case studies of current employees, vacancies and the chance for people to submit their CV if there aren’t any vacancies that match their skills. I expect within the next 12 months, we will require more staff to grow the northern region as the business maintains a positive outlook on land purchasing and opening new sites.