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Outdated views must be challenged in tackling the skills crisis

So here we go again, those two hardy perennials raising their heads once more: lack of diversity and shortage of skills.

With gender it even looks like we’re going backwards.

There were no women among the 95 people shortlisted in the CIOB’s recent Construction Manager of the Year awards or even nominated.

Then, in another 70s throwback, we have that episode in Manchester where hotel group Malmaison has adorned its site hoardings with women in hard hats and little else.

Meanwhile a report from the London Chamber of Commerce points to an ever-widening skills gap and says the number of trainees needs to rise by 50 per cent if we are to be able to build out a nearly £100bn pipeline of work in London and the South-east by 2017.

Is there a deep-seated idea that we’ll get by just like we always do? Or is there a real determination for change?

Chinese partnerships

The industry is certainly adapting to the challenge in different ways, of which joint ventures with Chinese firms is one example.

“Is there a deep-seated idea that we’ll get by just like we always do? Or is there a real determination for change?”

Chinese partnerships, which are likely to emerge as a growing trend, will provide ballast to UK contractors’ balance sheets, but as they see it, also create supply chains and expertise in design and offsite manufacture that can help fill the skills gap.

Organisations like the China Building Technique Group, which, it has emerged, has entered a joint venture with Mace to bid for schemes in London, are also major manufacturers in their own right.

This bodes well. But we need other fresh thinking too.

Attractive potential

Here are a few ideas the industry might consider adding to the growing to-do list:

1) We hear only too often that young people aren’t attracted to construction - yet six times as many people have been applying for apprenticeships via the CITB than there have been vacancies. Construction desperately needs to offer young people jobs.

2) Why don’t firms offer more work experience? Schools are crying out for placements. Could CITB broker opportunities in construction - and maybe CIOB/RICS/ICE for the professions?

3) Start with a narrower focus: sell the idea of professions, such as being an engineer, rather than simply joining ‘the industry’.

4) Contractors need to really throw their weight behind the UK Contractors Group Open Doors initiative - and make sure young people can actually get on site when they turn up. At some sites last year children were told they were too young to enter, defeating the objective of the exercise.

5) We are getting a few more senior women in the sector - but often they choose to keep a low profile. It would be great to have a few more prominent role models.

6) Let’s make it more attractive for women to remain in the industry. So often women who have a child then get shunted off into community engagement roles, while the men go on to be site managers and project managers

We might then see more women on the CMYA shortlist - and if any clients suggest putting pictures of semi-naked women on hoarding, perhaps consider having a quiet word in their ear.

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