Training needs to be site-focused and contractors need to think differently to meet the industry’s skills challenges.
With half a century’s experience at Seddon under my belt, I’ve witnessed many different ways the construction industry has had to respond to challenges.
From economic downturns and housing shortages through to the impending impact of Brexit on labour, the industry requires talented, resilient people on the ground and at the top who are able to weather the storm.
Without the right employees in the right roles and equipped with the right skills, construction – like any other industry – would find it increasingly difficult to make progress.
A collective approach
Fulfilling major political schemes, such as the Northern Powerhouse agenda or bringing one million new houses to market by 2020, is going to require a more joined-up approach to skills and training.
I chair the 14-19 education group for Construction and the Built Environment, where it’s clear there are young people that want to go into construction – the fact that 70,000 14-19-year-olds are on full-time C&BE training courses speaks for itself.
“If being in construction for 50 years has taught me anything, it’s that we’re at our best as a collective”
The industry is a viable career, with genuine entry-level opportunities that can lead to more senior management positions in time with the right mentoring.
However, a large part of construction seems preoccupied with the finished article – hiring qualified young people without committing fully to the training needed to turn raw talent into a valuable, highly skilled workforce.
There’s also the issue of the reluctance to look for talent and employ young people who aren’t able to secure apprenticeships with companies.
The government and education providers need to come together and be more proactive in changing this by creating local training opportunities – even after a project is completed.
It’s vital to ensure courses are totally in line with what happens on sites to ensure qualifications are truly worthwhile and that we have key tradespeople available when we need them. This will be vital if we are to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality, build more homes for those who need them, or see major infrastructure projects such as HS2 through to completion.
The forthcoming apprenticeship levy is putting the onus on the industry to invest in its future, but we could go further. Many companies look after themselves, training for their own needs only.
If being in construction for 50 years has taught me anything, it’s that we’re at our best as a collective that meets challenges head on.
Roy Cavanagh is education and training executive at Seddon