Professionals from across the construction industry have warned that any boost in productivity offered by the Conservative government’s Northern Powerhouse plan is threatened by a lack of available workers on the ground, according to research conducted by UK Construction Week.
The concept, which involves the extension of devolution deals to Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and the midlands as well as the creation of a new Greater Manchester Land Commission, has been welcomed by MPs and hailed by many within the industry as a bright light of potential economic prosperity and construction development. However, there are fears that these benefits might not be realised to their fullest extent without serious investment in recruiting more skilled workers into the industry.
Charlie Scherer, Chief Operating Officer at the residential construction business at Willmott Dixon – UK Construction Week exhibitor and independent construction and property services heavyweight – commented: “While it is welcome news that devolution deals will likely increase development in the major northern hubs, there is much to be done if the industry is to have the capacity to make the most of the opportunities presented. Skills shortages are now equal to their pre-recession highs. Our industry is expected to grow by 2.9 per cent every year for the next five years, creating 224,000 new jobs, but as we expect 400,000 people to retire in the same period a major gap is placing that growth in jeopardy.
“At Willmott Dixon we have a network of construction ambassadors that are inspiring new generation of young people eager to pursue a career in our industry. While we train 250 apprentices and graduates a year and with one in 10 of our people on the project side of the business in active management training, we are just one part of a solution and more must be done on a bigger, more consistent scale to ensure we attract the numbers of new people required to meet the industry’s growth opportunities.”
Chris Wood, CEO at Develop Training –the UK’s leading accredited provider of compliance, technical and safety training and exhibitor at the Build Show – commented: “An aging and poorly trained workforce is a real problem facing the construction industry. Take the energy and utilities sector for example, 50 per cent of the workforce is predicted to leave the industry by 2023, meaning 200,000 new recruits are needed to plug the gap. Without a marked increase in training provision, it is difficult to see how new construction opportunities will be delivered appropriately.
“This is down to a combination of firms failing to encourage new blood into the industry and the increased pressure on young people to continue down a purely academic route once leaving secondary school. Whilst university and degrees are a good option, they are not for everyone. Apprenticeships offer fantastic employment opportunities but have too long been neglected and we are now seeing the consequences across multiple industries.”
Richard Morey, Group Events Director at Media 10, the event company producing UK Construction Week, commented: “Our aim for UK Construction Week is to help support the growth of the construction industry nationwide and a massive part of that is the work we’ve put into the show’s content focused on skills and apprenticeships. We have planned practical workshops and seminars around hands-on business management as well as learning new skills to equip the industry with the workforce it needs to prosper.”
Held at the Birmingham NEC from 6 – 11 October, UK Construction Week is challenging the London-centric focus of the industry from a more central hub. With a variety of seminar theatres like the Site Zone and the Homebuilding Theatre, the show’s content is firmly encouraging a ‘Learn to Earn’ mentality as practical sessions will look at competing for and winning work, managing costs and cash flow, practical ways to save time and money on site and what you need to know to make apprenticeships work. This focus is backed up on the Main Stage with seminars that look at improving the image of construction and major projects on the horizon.
Bringing together nine shows under one roof, UK Construction Week will be the biggest construction trade event the UK has seen in years. Taking place at the Birmingham NEC with the trade only days from 6 – 8 October, the event will unite 1,000 exhibitors with an expected audience of 55,000 visitors.
Visitors will be able to attend the Build Show (incorporating Civils Expo), Timber Expo, the Surface and Materials Show, Energy 2015, Kitchens & Bathrooms Live, Plant & Machinery Live, HVAC 2015, Smart Buildings 2015 and Grand Designs Live.