The housebuilding industry’s dire labour shortage is the result of a generation not willing to get their hands dirty, according to a panel of leading industry players. Speaking at the WhatHouse? New Homes Debate, Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council, said that colleges were ill-equipped to teach practical skills and housebuilders were reluctant to take apprentices.
“It’s appalling that labour shortages are holding back development,” Watts said. “By the time someone graduates from collage, the skills they are taught are already out of date. Constructors are mostly self-employed, and they don’t want apprentices.”
According to Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking & Dagenham Council, apprenticeships are unaffordable for most people living in London. “People can’t afford to do apprenticeships in London and they can’t live with their parents because they’ll get penslised for that, too,” he said.
Neil Jefferson, Business Development Director of the NHBC, said that the average age of a constructor in the UK is 50-55. “We cannot encourage people to come in at the starter end,” he said. “That’s our fault. That’s a real problem. We haven’t got across that the housebuilding industry is a great career option.”
Unfortunately, negative perceptions of a career in construction are proving to be a barrier. Jefferson said that parents are often unreceptive to the idea of pointing their children towards a construction site.
“One of the problems is the colleges and the housebuilding industry aren’t aligned in the right way,” he said. “Schools need to adverise careers in the housebuilding industry.” However, the problem goes deeper than that.
“We tried to take the idea of a painting and decorating career to schools – and parents didn’t want their children to grow up to be painters and decorators,” he said.
In spring 2017 the way the government funds apprenticeships in England will change, and some employers will be required to contribute to a new apprenticeship levy. According to Tony Pidgley, Chairman of the Berkeley Group, this will only deepen the problem. “This levy on apprenticeships is ridiculous,” he said.
“The government has a big challenge with Brexit,” Pidgley added. “Take our labour force. Our labour force has dropped to 12,000, and will drop further without workers from the EU. It’s too easy to say there’s no apprenticeships.”