Four recommendations to build construction’s workforce

Construction is under increasing pressures and a fragmented skills system is a barrier to meeting the challenges

Construction is under increasing pressures and a fragmented skills system is a barrier to meeting the challenges

7 Feb 2024, 18:21

I have been involved with training for the construction industry for over 30 years, both in the UK and overseas. Although some challenges such as net zero are being addressed in many countries, the UK faces a range of very serious challenges that are home-grown.

The construction and built environment sector provides the critical infrastructure, housing, repairs and maintenance to support the UK’s economy and communities.Its output is over £216 billion per annum, and it provides around 8.8 per cent of the UK’s jobs. 

On net zero, it needs to upskill the workforce to support the UK in constructing the low-carbon world to support our economy and communities into a stable future- all while cutting the carbon emitted during the construction process.

In addition, the industry faces three other major challenges.

First, a major skills shortage of circa 250,000 skilled personnel up to 2027. 

Second, a significant requirement to upskill the workforce to improve productivity through digitisation, different materials, new products and new methods of working.

Third, arising from Grenfell, to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) in DBT by improving the level of competency of the workforce.

All this against a background of 10 years of changing skills policies from DfE, as well as the impact of devolution. There are green skills initiatives from the department for energy security amd net zero, such as the Solar Task Force Skills Group. There’s the need to design new UK-wide skills competency frameworks with the building safety regulator in the department for business and trade. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales obviously have their own policy initiatives.And there is also a UK-wide review underway of the future of construction industry training board and its engineering counterpart, which is expected to report soon.

It is no wonder the medium and small contractor companies find this array of government departments, quangos and differing and changing systems bewildering. They struggle to see how to address the major challenges.

This array of departments, quangos and differing and changing systems is bewildering

Recognising these massive challenges, we carried out a review, with the support of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), of what employers thought was the way forward to boost employment in the sector.

We found that employers use a range of existing training routes to bring people into industry, They see it as essential that all these routes are retained and properly funded. To ensure full competency of the workforce and comply with the Building Safety Act is a challenge for employers.

For example, there are 442,000 people with only a labourer card (level 1 or no qualification). So the sector’s priority is to get people to competency level 2, but this is at odds with governments’ policies focusing on level 3 and above.

In the view of employers, over the past ten years skills policy and the skills system have become more fragmented. This is aggravated by a decline in skills funding.

The industry has used the single carding scheme (CSCS) as the mechanism for verifying competency, but it needs to be better re-integrated into the overall skills system. This point is not fully recognised by governments’ policies.

Based on this information gathering, the report proposes four key recommendations:

  1. Retain and improve through modularisation of training and best quality assurance all the existing routes into the sector, i.e. apprenticeships (including levels 2 and 3, higher and degree), vocational competence qualifications (NVQs) and bootcamps, where these are of a high-quality (with appropriate training to facilitate entering employment). 
  2. Industry needs to work with governments and other key stakeholders to establish a common consistent UK skills system for construction which is based on a common core for each occupation with built-in flexibility for national and regional variations.
  3. Develop the CSCS scheme to support the new verification of competency under the Building Safety Act and ensure it is integrated into the UK skills system and policies.
  4. As set out in the CLC Industry Skills Plan, industry needs to take a leading role on diversity and enhancing the various approaches currently being used with the co-ordination of a single coherent, focused and powerful message of the benefits of working in construction; under-pinned by an agreed approach to EDI.

What is clear from our review is that the major skills challenges of the construction sector are significantly different to those of others and therefore it requires skills policies and a system that are fit for purpose for it.

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