Construction industry skills shortage at ‘breaking point’

More young people are needed in the construction industry to narrow the skills gap.

​Construction firms in Nottinghamshire have vowed to fight to recruit young people into the industry – after research showed the skills shortage is at “breaking point”.

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Scape Group, a Nottingham-based built environment specialist owned by the public sector, has released the results of the most comprehensive survey of the UK’s construction supply chain.

Its report comes on the back of Government data released in August showing construction output has decreased by 6.4 percent quarterly in the East Midlands.

Some of the county’s largest firms in the industry say they are working hard to bring young people into the industry but acknowledged there is a “real shortage” of skilled tradesmen to meet high demand.

Glenn Slater, business development director at Edwinstowe construction firm Robert Woodhead, said: “We are committed to working with our local supply chain partners, all SMEs who struggled to invest in training and skills through the recession and are now dealing with a steep rise in workload.

“In particular there is a real shortage of skilled bricklayers and plasterers to keep up with the level of work available.

“This year we will be looking to take on more apprentices as we continue our commitment to bringing young people into the industry. This has to be the best thing we as employers can do to bring the industry out of this skills shortage in the long-term.”

Nick Heath, operations director for construction services firm Willmott Dixon in the East Midlands, is based at Lock House, in Castle Meadow Road, Nottingham.

Nick Heath, of Willmott Dixon

He highlighted its work on the £30m BioCity extension as an example of a scheme in which hundreds of local young people have been given the chance to find out more about the construction industry through a series of site visits, work experience placements and engagement with schools and colleges.

He said: “As a business, we are committed to plugging that skills gap so that we can create a really strong construction industry for the future.

“As such, we work very closely with our consultants, professional services advisors and other suppliers and manufacturers to bring fresh talent into our industry.”

Dan Belfield, project manager for Nottingham-based interior fit-out company B&M Installations, said it was “critical” to have a highly-skilled team working on refurbishment products for clients including the University of Nottingham.

He added: “Our order book is growing rapidly, with the majority of the work based in Nottingham and, with the construction sector picking up as a whole, the skills gap needs to be reduced, including investment in training and encouraging school and university-leavers to consider the construction sector.”

Scape Group’s latest analytical report, Sustainability in the Supply Chain, published last week, surveyed more than 150 contractors, subcontractors and senior managers at public sector organisations across the UK.

According to 85 percent of public sector respondents, the skills shortage is negatively affecting the quality of projects, particularly at regional level.

One in 10 contractors and suppliers believe the skills shortage is critically impacting budgets.

Scape Group chief executive Mark Robinson said: “Our research has shown that the skills shortage is at breaking point, not only severely impacting the quality of what we are building but also our ability to build it on budget.

“While there is a mountain to climb to overcome this challenge, basic recommendations can be put in place to ease the burden – for example, 19 percent of contractors and subcontractors still do not have an apprenticeship scheme.”

The vast division between the public and private sector when it comes to defining a healthy supply chain and their primary aims was also highlighted.

Within the private sector, 72 percent of respondents said long-term operational stability was the core aim, while in the public sector, 70 percent of those surveyed said its biggest priority was to provide long-term benefits for the local economy.

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