Building Lives shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t need to exist; no other industry relies on charities like Building Lives to support young people through apprenticeships in order to enter their industry.
But construction is not like any other industry.
It is a fragmented, low-margin, low barrier-to-entry nightmare of perfect competition.
And that helps perpetuate a system where the industry, with some notable and noble exceptions, fails to invest in training the workforce of its own future.
In November the London Chamber of Commerce and KPMG report Skills to Build highlighted the consequences for employment in the industry, with a 20 per cent predicted shortfall in the number of workers needed on site in London and the South-east.
“That is why Building Lives exists, filling a critical role in providing a pathway for young people into the industry”
Main contractors, for the most part, do not directly employ, but rely on their supply chains.
Businesses in the supply chain, in many cases, lack the balance sheets and the confidence in the future to directly employ either.
So the industry is awash with self-employment.
And that makes it very hard, especially in London it seems, to secure an apprenticeship contract.
Plugging the gap
So that is why Building Lives exists, and a number of other charities and organisations like it, filling a critical role in providing a pathway for young people, often from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds, into the industry.
Over the past four years Building Lives has supported hundreds of young people into apprenticeships.
Last year its good work was recognised with the Training Initiative of the Year gong at the Construction News Awards.
In September, Building Lives will put in place a new training model which will allow them to support even more young people.
Or that may never happen.
Today Building Lives faces bankruptcy. That is a catastrophe.
It is a catastrophe for the charity and all who work with it, and a personal blow for Steve Rawlings, Sian Workman and their team who have worked tirelessly over the last four years to build it up.
It is a catastrophe for those individuals who were about to go onto apprenticeships with the charity, and for the many individuals who next year and the year after will be on the dole because a charity which would have placed them doesn’t exist any more.
And it is a catastrophe for the construction industry, which desperately needs those individuals on site.
I decided four weeks ago, when I first learned of the predicament of Building Lives, that I couldn’t stand by and watch it collapse.
But to secure its future, we need the whole industry to unite around it and help. I very much hope you feel that this deserves your support.
Richard Threlfall is head of infrastructure and construction at KPMG