At a recent panel event at Housing 2018, I discussed the future of construction skills post-Brexit. It’s a topic that is front of mind for many as we approach the UK’s exit date from the European Union.
But the skills debate is not new. In my 30 years in the industry there has always been talk of a shortage; yet surely a shortage cannot go on for that long?
What we actually have is an institutional problem: a fragmented and ill-equipped industry that is not currently set up to take on and train the required number of people to do the jobs.
A new approach is needed and Brexit, wherever you stand on it, might just be the catalyst that is needed to shake up the status quo and give the industry a much needed push.
While there may be a shortage of skilled workers to fill up the job vacancies in the construction industry, there is certainly not a shortage of young people wanting a job and a route into a construction career.
This year, we had 600 applicants for our 20 apprenticeship places at Seddon.
There are simply not enough employers who are able to offer high-quality apprenticeship places to those who want them.
The taxation system and heavy reliance on subcontractors make it difficult for many businesses, particularly SMEs to take on and support apprentices.
My thoughts on what is required are simple.
We need much better coordination of our resources. The industry is so fragmented these days, which can make it harder to come together to tackle issues like this.
But to really invest in upskilling the next generation, we must collaborate and use all of our resources to ensure that there is an effective programme in place.
There must be more incentives and rewards for businesses to take on and train apprentices, particularly as we may no longer be able to rely so much on workers from Europe.
Finally, we must change how we measure the creation of apprenticeships, with less focus on the numbers taken on and more emphasis on the output. How many fully- trained, work-ready apprentices are there at the end of these programmes? That is the true measure of whether we are getting it right.
Jonathan Seddon, CEO at Seddon