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Skills to Build: An industry view

As a company that works across social housing, refurbishment and regeneration, we began to feel the effects of an improving economy from early on.

It is often said that the construction industry is first into the recession and first out – our experience has not been different.

This recession has been longer than others and, some would say, is not yet over. Although the construction trade is first in and normally first out, in this instance with the quick uptake in London, contractors are struggling to cope. There are issues with sub-contractors, but also with the availability of materials – both standard and specialist. The delay in the availability of materials can have a knock-on impact increasing cost to contractors.

We employ over 400 staff directly and can employ up to 4,000 people through contractors. Having experienced growth and anticipating continued growth, United House understands the importance of ensuring a skilled workforce that can meet increasing demand.

“The delay in the availability of materials can have a knock-on impact increasing cost to contractors”

In May 2014, London Chamber published Getting our House in Order, which looked at the barriers to building more houses across the capital. It covered a number of the issues that are particularly significant for smaller developers such as United House, including land supply, planning, and access to finance.

As chair of the Chamber’s Property and Construction group, along with Tony Pidgley, LCCI president, and the chambers numerous Property and Construction businesses, I knew that the skills crisis facing construction firms warranted separate and more detailed analysis.

A unique feature of the LCCI Property and Construction Group is its diverse membership, from developer to decorator. This report is important as it has allowed us to move from anecdotal incidents of difficulty recruiting and increased wage inflation, to an evidence based analysis of the size and nature of specific skills shortages.

“It is difficult to find anyone within the construction industry who would deny that the industry has historically failed to invest in training new staff”

It is difficult to find anyone within the construction industry who would deny that the industry has historically failed to invest in training new staff. Combined with the loss of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers to the recession, and an ageing workforce, this has resulted in the situation that we are today.

But it is not too late for industry, along with government, to act to address the skills crisis. Indeed engagement between industry and training providers is key to ensuring people with the skills the sector needs.

As chairman of LCCI’s Property and Construction group, I am confident that we can step up to meeting the construction skills challenge and in so doing, re-energise our industry.

Jeffrey Adams is chairman of United House Developments, and is also chairman of the newly formed United Living Group.

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