10 ways to solve the skills crisis

As John Tutte, Chief Executive of Redrow wryly pointed out, there can be no thought leadership without 10 bite-sized recommendations. Therefore, after experts gathered at the Houses of Parliament for Future Builder 2016, we couldn’t disappoint the industry by not producing our own.

The Future Builder roundtable, held in association with AppliancePlus+ from Beko Plc and Show House on 20th October, gathered some of the most notable names in housebuilding to help find solutions to the industry’s well-documented skills crisis.

  1. Talk up apprenticeships

Not even Lord Sugar has managed to raise the profile of apprenticeships. According to the expert panel, vocational education simply isn’t viewed as equally aspirational to academic qualifications. It’s fair to say that government, teachers and even parents have a part to play in presenting apprenticeships as a credible alternative.

  1. Diversify the industry

Housebuilding remains a male-dominated industry. When you have a skills shortage, you simply can’t afford to exclude 50% of the potential talent pool. As Tutte pointed out, in one year there were 9,000 women on level 2 hairdressing apprenticeships, and just 80 on equivalent engineering apprenticeships. The industry has to broaden its appeal.

  1. Increasing offsite construction

Charlie Scherer, Chief Operating Officer – Housing at Willmott Dixon, said that housebuilders would have no option but to increase offsite construction. Aside from improving efficiency, modern production methods are more palatable to a generation raised on social media and mobile technology. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell added that it involves different skill sets, which will bring new people into the industry.

  1. Improving accessibility

The most visible element of a construction site is a sign that says ‘Keep Out’. As Darragh Hurley, Investment Director at Mount Anvil said, a housebuilder’s work is totally impermeable to the outside word. However, programmes such Open Doors can show the next generation that there is more to a construction site than safety signs. Without the chance to see a housebuilder’s work first hand, a career-seeker can’t understand what an exciting industry it is to work in.

  1. Linking the needs of the economy with education

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell admitted that the government could do a better job linking the needs of the local economy with education. Observing that Westfield and Hammerson’s £1 billion shopping centre in Croydon would create around 5,500 construction jobs, the MP was disappointed that further education colleges in the area were still dominated by hair and beauty courses. If local employers had more influence over the type of courses offered by further education colleges, there would probably be a lot more graduates in employment and houses being built.

  1. Demystifying the grant system

According to Scherer, the SMEs who make up the majority of the industry’s supply chain find it very difficult to get the best from the complex grant system. A couple of years ago, out of the total income received by the CIBT, only 25% was reinvested into apprenticeships with SMEs. With greater clarity, SMEs could claim their fair share in terms of new apprenticeships and start to make up the shortfall.

  1. Bringing apprenticeships up to date

Tutte couldn’t understand why apprentices were still taught how to make bow-fronted windows when no one fits them anymore. That’s not the only part of apprenticeships that need an overhaul. There are no fast track options, which seems strange for an industry in urgent need of skilled workers.

  1. Better advertising

There are two recruitment campaigns that are ingrained on public consciousness. One is for teaching, the other is for the military. “It would be great to have an equivalent campaign for the housebuilding industry,” admitted Hurley. An advertising campaign that showcased all the industry has to offer, directed to resonate with the ‘social networking generation’, would surely drum up some more recruits.

  1. Never stop learning

Although much focus is given to new recruits, skilling up existing employees is equally as important. Tutte said that 3% of margins are eroded by poor quality. You then have to utilise 3% of resources to do that work again. So 3% of resources are taken up by poor quality management. Training academies that upskill existing employees are another intervention which could help overcome the crisis.

  1. Public sector housebuilding

The industry, as Tutte pointed out, is largely reliant on private housebuilding. Since the demise of public sector housebuilding during the 1980s, private sector housebuilding has driven the industry. The industry said goodbye to a large chunk of its workforce during the recession because there was nothing to replace the downturn in private sector housing. If a public sector housebuilding programme has been in place, trades would have remained employed. The private sector simply can’t shoulder the burden alone.

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