16 February 2017

What's causing the construction industry skills shortage?

It’s no secret that the construction industry - including the provision of plumbing engineers - is in the midst of a skills shortage. With recent research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) showing that the crisis is worsening, Wavin’s Technical Services Manager, Tim Wootton, shares his thoughts on what can be done to tackle the issue. 

230,000 new skilled workers needed to meet demand

The construction industry is a key part of the UK economy and although investment in this sector is on the rise, the same cannot be said for the number of skilled tradespeople available to carry out the work.

Last year, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimated that 230,000 new skilled workers would be needed to meet demand for new infrastructure and housing projects in the UK.

More recently still, the FMB’s latest State of the Trade Survey found that 40% of construction trades are experiencing their highest shortage of skills since the gap began in 2013.

Face to face contact between working professionals and the next generation of industry talent [is] mutually beneficial to both students and businesses
Tim Wootton | Technical Services Manager, Wavin UK

Which trades does the skills gap most affect?

While the shortage of bricklayers and carpenters is well documented, what’s particularly striking about this new research is that it shows the skills shortage is now extending to other trades such as roofing and plumbing. It’s therefore becoming increasingly crucial to find new ways to encourage and support more young people into a career in the construction industry.

But it won’t be easy.  In its  Special Eurobarometer Report  on attitudes towards Vocational Education and T raining  (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 a n electrician. These trades are not only valuable to the construction industry as a whole – they are  essential .

How can the issue of skills shortages be addressed?

One of the main barriers to tackling the skills gap is a lack of understanding in the industry about where responsibility lies for developing the next generation of tradespeople. The answer, quite simply, must be everyone involved in the industry. While there are steps companies across different trades can individually take to help address the issue, industry-wide collaboration is needed to turn around the increasing gap in skilled tradespeople in the UK.

This collaboration in practice can be evidenced by the number of partnerships between schools and colleges and construction companies and manufacturers already running across the UK. In addition to teaching pupils about the numerous opportunities available within the construction sector from a young age, such programmes enable qualified tradespeople to offer practical training on products and installation. This demonstrates the practicalities of a given trade and increases students’ willingness to get involved.

The benefits of these partnerships have been outlined in a report by the British Chamber of Commerce and the Government Equalities Office.

The newly established School Business Partnership set out to highlight exactly what schools, their pupils and businesses can gain by working in collaboration with one another to address the skills shortage.

The report found that face to face contact between working professionals and the next generation of industry talent was mutually beneficial to both students and businesses. By helping to develop pupils’ skills and prepare them for the world of work, businesses unlocked a new talent pool ready to be tapped into.

Addressing the shortage in the construction industry needs to be a joint, sustained effort between companies, trade and professional bodies.
Tim Wootton | Technical Servicers Manager, Wavin UK

New ways of learning are key to attracting the next generation

It’s also important to recognise that people learn in different ways, and the way we all – but particularly younger generations – access information continues to evolve.

Rather than traditional methods involving long-lasting spells in the classroom, training providers are increasingly looking towards models which include shorter lessons supported with an online e-learning platform which can be accessed at any time. These platforms give users the chance to fill any gaps in their knowledge, or refresh their memory on a given product or installation method, at a time and place that suits them.

Wavin’s MyPortal platform, for example, features a variety of content from ‘How-to’ videos to product FAQs and training modules designed to support classroom teaching.

To promote the benefits of a trade career to future generations in a relatable and directly relevant way, it’s also important for manufacturers and construction companies to understand exactly what skilled tradespeople like about their profession and help communicate this to those thinking of a trade career.

We regularly speak to hundreds of plumbers to learn exactly what makes it such a rewarding career for them. What stands out is the degree to which experienced plumbers take pride in their work, treat it like a craft and make a good living from it.

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What turns a job into a vocation?

We recently undertook a research project to understand what plumbers like about the trade, for example, and found that the rewarding nature of the job, the ability to work flexible hours and the plentiful supply of work were some of the key benefits of the profession.

Further to this, problem solving and keeping customers happy were cited amongst the top reasons for plumbers to enjoy working in the trade. Helping young people to see beyond just the technical elements of the trade, and understand what makes it such a rewarding career, is key to encouraging more people to consider is as a vocation.

There is no quick fix to resolving the skills gap. What is clear, however, is that addressing the shortage in the construction industry needs to be a joint, sustained effort between companies, trade and professional bodies. Key to any approach moving forward is educating individuals and ensuring trade professionals are as accessible and relevant as possible to young people looking for a rewarding career.