Last week’s unemployment figures made stark reading. Unemployment in the UK rose by 48,000 to 2.67 million in the three months to December and youth unemployment is at a record high.
But potential solutions are at hand and many are with the construction industry.
Despite the gloomy headlines about workload in the construction sector, there is major investment being carried out by the industry’s customers. In rail, billions of pounds are being spent by Network Rail, London Underground and Crossrail to support growth, improve reliability and reduce journey times.
Similarly, in the waste and water sectors, legislation and regulation are likely to drive tens of billions of pounds of spending.
These customers have long-term investment programmes underpinned by strategic needs, regulatory commitments or essential maintenance requirements. The money will be spent but our industry cannot expect guarantees with regard to continuing employment and long-term security.
What is clear is that the skills required in our industry are changing to meet customer demand. There is still a shortage of appropriate skills in the sector – good engineers and supervisors are still in high demand, for example. Now is the time that we must all look at investment in our training, development and recruitment.
Meeting national needs also means, to us, delivery on retaining and enhancing the skills of the workforce in the sectors in which we work, encouraging new entrants and, through the projects, building a legacy of new skills for the communities in which we have a lasting impact.
One important initiative in this regard is the National Skills Academy model, which is embedding an employer-led approach to skills relevant to the sector. Costain is already a member of the rail, nuclear and construction national skills academies and we are working closely with them to share best practice and ensure it is applied directly to the projects under construction.
Costain has played a leading role in the Construction Skills Academies since their inception, chairing the employer-led National Skills Academy for the Construction Group. Over the past three years there have been over 40 academies set up including in connection with the Olympics projects.
We believe the model plays a significant role in focusing on high performance and on delivering increased training leading to continued employment and promoting career opportunities. National Apprenticeship Week is another important initiative.
Our industry is being called on to meet national needs and it is up to the industry and our customers to respond. Those national needs are not confined to strengthening infrastructure. They also encompass the need to create jobs, support local employment and help young people start their careers. Those companies that are willing to invest their time and money today in the new skills required will be the ones who prosper in the future.