Nicola Hodkinson sheds light on the critical impact the ongoing skills shortage in construction has, and proposes a solution that could push the industry in the right direction
In the intricate tapestry of our society, the construction sector stands as a fundamental pillar.
In 2019, the sector contributed a substantial £117bn to the UK economy, and employed over 10% of the nation’s workforce. From healthcare facilities and educational institutions, to the very homes we inhabit, we depend on the structures crafted by skilled hands.
One of the main contributing factors to the inability to meet the demand for social housing, to put it simply, is a lack of these skilled hands. There are not enough boots on the ground to address the housing crisis, along with the long list of other crucial issues and government targets.
With homelessness on the rise and many families living in unsuitable conditions, the need for rapid building of homes is huge. However, the 2023 Skills Shortage Report found 34,478 LinkedIn jobs vacant in the construction industry, with only 2,870 people searching for jobs.
With more job vacancies than ever, and positions not being filled quick enough, a reform is needed urgently to address the skill shortage.
Understanding the shortage
According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), an estimated 224,900 additional workers must be recruited by 2027 to fulfil the sector’s workforce demands.
This rate amounts to around 45,000 new starts each year. However in 2021/22, just 26,000 construction apprentices started in the industry, and with between 40-47% of apprentices dropping out of their course prior to completion, the initial figures don’t tell the whole story.
If the industry collectively put its efforts into developing apprentices, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and we could tackle the apprentice employment shortage at its route.
A collective effort from the 350,000 construction companies in the UK is required; investing in our young people cannot be pushed aside. To put it into proportion, if each of the 350,000 companies hired just one apprentice, the shortage of workers would be resolved.
The Seddon way
Over the past 23 years, our approach to apprenticeships internally has resulted in an 80% retention rate of our apprentices, which make up 11.2% of our business’s workers.
So in September 2022, we decided to replicate our efforts outside of our own business. We surveyed our supply chain to identify the barriers to training apprenticeships within their own businesses. We found that the main issues lay with securing the right candidates, funding, and locating a suitable training provider.
Handling this from the source, we adopted a proactive approach to help streamline the process of apprenticeship placement and support. Our partnership with our local college and supply chain helps to secure placements and eventually, apprenticeships for students who are on full-time trade courses.
We identify and shortlist suitable apprentices for our supply chain, helping them to find the appropriate qualification, and secure college funding.
This endeavour constitutes a real commitment from Seddon, driven purely by our belief in doing what is right. These efforts have not only equipped 110 companies with crucial insights into apprenticeships, but has also kickstarted 17 employment opportunities.
Alongside this, prioritising direct engagement with the local community helps to provide our valuable young people with real-life experiences to gain an insight in to the industry.
Our partnership with Preston Vocational Centre (PVC), a construction based training charity, gives young people the opportunity to explore different trades, required skills, and career opportunities available.
A shared responsibility for a skilled future
At Seddon, we understand the value of taking a long-term approach to the skills gap.
On the face of it, it may look like apprentice employment would impact profit, but it absolutely doesn’t. Apprentices add value to your teams and business from day one, and recruiting them is the right thing to do if we are to help drive this much needed sea change.
Our industry as a whole must strive to address these factors and embrace a collective mindset. Only then can we ensure the industry’s future stability and its ongoing role as the foundation of infrastructure development for all sectors of society.
Nicola Hodkinson is owner and director of Seddon
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