SkillsPlanner isn’t just about young workers. It will also embrace programmes focused on the three R’s: in this case, returning, retraining and retaining.
A lot of the UK construction skills shortage rhetoric tends to focus on ‘catching them when they’re young’. For example, we read about making the industry more attractive to young people, encouraging young people to look at science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) routes to future careers, and promoting construction-related apprenticeships to school leavers. All very laudible, but additionally there are huge opportunities for older generations of workers.
It was encouraging, for example, to read how SkillsPlanner partner Tideway is specifically targeting potential industry returners, including women who have taken time out to raise families, with a programme of paid-for internships. Commited to creating a more diverse workforce, Tideway CEO Andy Mitchell sees the returnship programme as an obvious way to attract experienced and able workers:
“It is widely recognised that one of the biggest pools of untapped talent is with professionals who have taken a break from their career, and then found it difficult to find work in their area of expertise because of the gap of relevant experience in their CVs.
“Building on our successful returner programme from last year, the first outside the banking sector, we have expanded our scheme to include our delivery partners Amey, Costain, Ferrovial Agroman and Laing O’Rourke. This, combined with our flexible working policy, provides a very positive pathway for professionals to return to a fulfilling career.”
Returnship programmes are among the initiatives that SkillsPlanner is intended to support and exploit to bridge the gap between industry demand for skilled workers and individuals looking for rewarding careers.
Retraining redundant workforces
A related opportunity is to look at retraining workers from other industry sectors. For example, in recent months we have seen major redundancy programmes affect steelworkers in north-east England and south Wales, among other areas; many of these workers will have transferable knowledge, skills and experiences that can readily be redeployed in the construction sector, particularly if there are major regional projects offering potential employment.
SkillsPlanner team members attended the launch of the In-Site Forum at Celtic Manor near Newport in south Wales and heard how skills shortages are creating a damaging ‘bidding war’ for skills. Event organisers Acorn, Y Prentis and The Celtic Manor are collaborating in a bid to avoid this, and support for their cause came this week from Sir Terry Matthews, chairman of the Swansea Bay City Region local enterprise group. He told Construction News that a government rethink on the long-term funding of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project could be key to providing much-needed employment for workers who have lost their jobs.
While SkillsPlanner’s initial focus is on London and the south-east, we are keen to extend the concept to cover other parts of the UK.
Retaining older workers
Of course, skills shortages might be reduced if we didn’t lose construction workers in the first place. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has been researching the effects of the ageing population on the construction industry and in its second major report, Exploring the Impact of the Ageing Population on the Workforce and Built Environment (PDF here), published in December 2015, outlines how retaining ageing workers’ knowledge and skills is also crucial: we need greater investment in and recognition of ageing workers.
With 19% of the construction workforce set to retire in the next five to ten years, the CIOB said employers need to overcome stereotypes and repurpose, where necessary, job descriptions to attract and, most importantly, retain older workers. Importantly, this is not a substitute for investing in training, but should work hand-in-hand to help alleviate the ongoing skills crisis. CIOB deputy chief executive Bridget Bartlett said:
“… if construction is to meet the skills crisis it faces and fill the 224,000 vacancies needed by 2019, … employers must also recognise the skills of their existing workers and put in measures such as flexible working, career reviews or even retirement planning to encourage longer working lives. … Skills shortages in construction are compounded by those entering the industry not being suitably qualified for the position. We should take this opportunity to use older workers to tap into their skills and knowledge and ensure they are passed onto the next generation.”