Out of recession but faced with skills gaps

on 24 June, 2013

Since the start of the recession in 2008, the construction industry was undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit sectors. According to GDP growth figures, the UK economy is starting to show positive growth, but the road to full recovery is long and bumpy and an obvious skills gap has been identified.

This not only highlights the lack of trained talent joining the industry, but the insufficient top-up training available for the older worker. The industry is at a crucial turning point and without these areas being addressed, the construction industry is in jeopardy of underperforming year on year.

As a consequence of the recession, the lack of jobs available has affected the pipeline of younger and more recently trained talent joining the construction sector. The industry is now faced with stunted growth and a widening skills gap which has the potential to widen further if not addressed with future client investment. According to the UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey, the construction sector is proven least likely to recruit directly from Higher Education than any other sector, and by not employing young talented workers, the construction industry has been left open to an increasingly aged profile.

The industry characteristically employs staff that are now close to retirement age. It is a common perception that older workers are already trained, and therefore they became a safer employment option during a recession when providing training increases financial pressures further.

However, after recent government announcements to unlock infrastructure and build momentum within the industry, the construction sector is expected to pick up pace and gain an influx of interest. Although an increase in employment levels will aid recovery in terms of growth, the industry is in danger of having more construction workers without the fundamental skills. According to the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, demand for industry workforce is forecast to rise by at least 5% a year for the next few years, and to meet this demand the industry must recruit, develop and upskill around 45,000 people by 2014.

Newly trained graduates are more likely to be aware of upcoming changes to legislation, new installation techniques or modern methods of construction, particularly when training investment for existing employees has been minimal throughout the recession period. This strategic recruitment will begin to introduce essential new skills needed to aid business recovery.

When combining the expected growth with employers in the construction industry least likely to invest in training, the industry is still at risk of being vulnerable to collapse. As a result of the increasingly competitive business environment, it is more important than ever for employers to invest in training and recruitment of staff of all ages in order to balance out the mix of talent among its workforce.

It is equally as vital to train existing staff in order to improve the business offering as a whole and to maintain a competitive edge. Identifying the skills gaps promptly can allow employers to focus their training investments on specific skills shortages. Manufacturers are now readily offering on-site training to installers using their products; this provides employees with practical, on-the-job training and for employers it can be a more cost-effective way of training staff. By learning directly from manufacturers, employers can rest assured that products are going to be installed correctly and not incur any remedial work or financial input to recover mistakes. Employers must now be aware that the need for training and new talent is not simply a business procedure, but crucial to business survival, and the minimal training investment during the recession must be left behind.

As the construction industry is continually developing in terms of legislation, products and techniques, it is only fitting that the workforce adapt with it. In a post-recession economy, manufacturers and employers are recognising the need to increase training and uptake of fresh, new entrants and this has led to an increase of money being fed into training schemes. Although training can be of high cost, employers must look at the expenditure as a business investment and overall it can mitigate costly mistakes made by installing materials incorrectly or not adhering to legislative procedures. However, in order to educate the workforce in the best possible way, it is essential for training courses to be updated as well. Although the UK economy is out of recession, maintaining a high calibre of skills amongst employees is vital to facilitate economic recovery and stability in the construction sector in the future.

Gary Carter is Fermacell’s UK general manager.

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