Monday, October 16, 2017

Building industry in crisis: will we have enough skilled plumbers to go around

Year by year, the labour shortage in the skilled trades becomes more prevalent. Yet with the construction industry at an all-time high, the need for experienced plumbers, electricians, welders and masons has never been more acute. There seems to be a disconnect. And it’s an industry-wide problem. Wavin explores why there is such a gap in vocational training and what we can do to turn it around.

The short answer is “No.” We do not have enough skilled plumbers to go around. Nor do we have enough skilled roofers or electricians or welders. And it’s a Europe-wide problem. In the UK, for example, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimated that 230,000 new skilled workers would be needed to meet the demand for new infrastructure and housing projects. Additionally, the Federation of Master Builders’ (FMB) Q1 2017 State of the Trade Survey reported that “60% of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers; 58% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners; and 45% are struggling to hire plumbers.” In essence, 40% of the UK construction trades are experiencing the highest shortage of skills since the gap started widening in 2013. So this begs the question “Why are there not enough skilled plumbers and other trade professionals?”

In London, we have seen the extraordinary statistic that one in three of the largest construction companies is having to turn down bidding opportunities due to a shortage of skilled labour. 
Mark Cahill , managing director of Manpower Group UK

Skilled labour shortage – in a nutshell

Simply put, the economic crisis in Europe caused many skilled workers to lose their jobs and, on top of that, some of the more seasoned tradesmen and women are now reaching retirement age. Students appear to be less inclined (and even discouraged) to go to vocational schools. In its Special Eurobarometer Report on attitudes towards Vocational Education and Training (VET), the European Commission found that “In spite of the perceived benefits of VET, a relative majority of respondents say that they would recommend general secondary or higher education to a young person who is finishing compulsory education rather than VET, by a margin of 34% to 32%.” So, if we want to encourage young people to become trade apprentices, there must be an attitude adjustment. There is skill to being a plumber or an electrician. These trades are not only valuable to the construction industry as a whole – they are essential.

Promoting the trades – a collaborative effort

The responsibility for promoting the skilled trades should not only rest upon the shoulders of government and educational institutions, but also on the construction industry as a whole. At Wavin, we believe that industry-wide collaboration is needed to bridge the increasing gap in skilled tradespeople in Europe.

In addition to teaching pupils about the numerous opportunities available withing the construction sector from a young age, such programmes enable qualified tradespeople to offer practical training on products and installation. Not only does this demonstrate the practicalities of a given trade, it also engages students more and increase their willingness to get involved.
Tim Wootton , technical services manager at Wavin UK

Companies, trade and professional bodies need to join together and promote the skilled trades to young people – by making the training easy to access and understand and, perhaps most importantly, by making it relatable to them. The focus should be on communicating what tradespeople like about their work. Not long ago, Wavin conducted some research on what plumbers enjoy about their trade. Here are their top likes:

- The job itself is rewarding
- Problem-solving
- Making customers happy
- Flexible hours
- Plentiful work

And there’s something to be said about the value of mentoring. What better way to encourage a young person to pick up a vocational trade than by taking him or her under your wing. By giving students the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a plumber, they will quickly learn that there are so many other facets to this vocation than just the technical skills. The satisfaction of providing solutions to problems and seeing the smile of relief and happiness on a customer’s face – these are some of the perks of the trade. It’s a rewarding career that is very much in demand. 

Join Wavin in promoting the trades. Here’s to a whole new generation of plumbers
Let’s keep the conversation going. Join us on Facebook and let us know what you think.
We have a few motivational ideas ourselves, so stay tuned.