21st August Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Council officials have called for a rise in apprenticeships, as more skilled workers are required to support the UK’s wider house building targets. They want more devolution of the training systems, having claimed that ‘for too long we’ve trained too many hairdressers and not enough bricklayers’. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a well-trained hairdresser, but the skills shortage is becoming a real problem and something has to be done about it.

There is currently a gap between the number of apprentices in the sector, and the industry’s forecasted annual recruitment. The issue is one mainly faced by the house-building sector and with ministers announcing plans to build up to 275,000 affordable homes by 2020; a huge improvement in skills and newly trained employees is needed.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has previously announced that in the last five years the number of completed construction apprenticeships fell by 58 per cent. This data, along with the results that followed last weeks A-Level’s show that not only is the industry lacking in apprenticeships, but the numbers of students studying the subjects which relate to the industry are mainly boys,

Data gathered from A-Level results, which went out last week, show that those studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) was weighted disproportionately to boys. The gender gap at A-Level is reflected in the numbers entering professions, increasing the current gender gap within the industry.

Further data shows that a quarter of sixth form colleges have had to stop offering STEM courses due to funding problems, which will only fuel the problems the industry is currently facing. The Government need to consider the long term effects of cutting such funding. Not only does it means courses and training opportunities are reduced, it also means that in the long run there won’t just be a skills shortage, there’ll be nobody left to do any of the work!

The LGA also added that its latest data suggests that the skills shortage could hold back between 16-25 per cent of forecast economic growth between now and 2022. The association has suggested that in order to prevent this, ministers need to work closely with employers, councils and education bodies, and I completely agree.

Councils are in the best position to understand the needs of their residents and the local area, yet they can’t contribute towards decision making on skills training and employment opportunities in the area. Those who have a better understanding of what is needed in order to improve the industry should have more of a say. Not all areas require the same skills, so it makes sense for opportunities to be created based on localised needs.

More power for councils can improve relationships between schools, colleges and employers resulting in a stronger workforce to close the skills gap in the industry and increase house- building, which benefits the country as a whole.