Nick Milestone, Managing Director of B & K Structures, takes a look at the skills shortage
Reports by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with KPMG, state that between now and the year 2017, there is a shortfall of nearly 15,000 workers. This is compounded by 400,000 of the current workforce expected to retire in the next five to ten years.
It is clear to all involved in the industry that we are facing a skills shortage and there is a vital need to boost the perception of the construction sector. By promoting the wealth of careers opportunities from the early stages of education, we can encourage young people to see it as an attractive and rewarding career path.
The government and training providers must also do their part by recognising the significant changes our industry is facing and incorporate the required skills in educational and training curriculum’s.
Unlike many other industries such as catering, where there is currently a government estimated 97,000 job seekers for 43,000 vacancies – construction paints a very different picture, with circa 123,000 applicants for 275,000 jobs.
So why is offsite construction so important to minimising our skills gap? Can this sector – often historically overlooked – really fill this crucial void in our industry? I firmly believe that it can.
Offsite construction is a more efficient way to operate, requiring less labour onsite than traditional construction methods. By shifting work from the site to factory, we are able to carefully monitor the quality of output in controlled conditions and reduce the reliability on traditional skills.
By providing a more engaging working environment, we can pave the way to reaching new people who may have never previously considered a career in construction, including encouraging more women to join the workforce. Factory environments also offer workers the option to prolong their career, the average construction worker’s current age at retirement is approximately 56 years old – if the emphasis is less on challenging manual labour, there is the potential to change this.
Health and safety is a key issue within today’s construction industry, which may be another barrier to recruitment. Offsite construction immediately reduces risks within this field – it has been proven to be a safe method of construction.
At B & K Structures we are trying to deal with this head on and currently have five full time apprentices and 10 people within the business under the age of 30, most of whom have been though our apprenticeship programme.
It is clear we are facing a crucial challenge within our industry today. But it is nothing that we cannot overcome with a vast cultural change. We can manage this ‘small speed bump’ on the road to post-recession recovery as an opportunity – not as an adversity – a chance to take our industry on a new path. As with every sector, we must adapt as new technology emerges. Offsite construction is most definitely the future and a real game changer in my opinion to our industry that could not only provide the answer to our current skills shortage but could create more prospects for future generations down the line.