22nd January Journal Column

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

The topic of skills shortage has always been something that has concerned me. I’m all for the industry growing in all sectors, so to hear that we’re still threatened by skills shortage is disappointing.

Ministers announced plans last year to build up to 275,000 affordable homes by 2020, and now we’re another year closer, but we’re no closer in terms of the improvement in skills and newly trained workers that are desperately needed.

It’s not just the housing sector that is suffering; according to a new government backed report claiming that we have a gap of 100,000 workers and 250,000 existing workers needing retaining over the next five years, it seems we have our work cut out.

Major infrastructure projects planned for this year are threatened by the skills shortage, meaning vital works on roads, rail and energy is likely to be affected – which is not what we want to hear!

There’s demand for over 250,000 construction workers as well as 150,000 engineering construction workers, which may sound like a lot, but considering that’s nationwide and there are 103,000 people out of work in the North East alone, I’m pretty sure our region could easily fill some of those jobs on our own.

But of course it’s not just about finding people to fill the jobs; it’s about finding the right people with the right skills. We should focus our attention away from fear of skills shortage and towards training and apprenticeships if we want the industry to grow in the long term.

Thankfully for us, a new study has revealed that due to the skills shortage, the sector’s wage inflation has increased, which is sure to help with the recruitment and training drive.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) UK construction market survey revealed that wages rose by an average of six per cent in 2015, which is three times higher than the national average.

While 61 per cent of construction professionals in the North East have reported wage rises, 46 per cent have also reported labour shortages. So while wage rises might be good news for employees, it’s not so good for the industry as the skills shortage is still jeopardising planned projects for the housing and infrastructure sectors.

Two-thirds of respondents of the RICS survey cited labour shortages as the biggest barrier to growth, and, as far as I can see, they’re the only barrier we’re facing at the minute. It’s as simple as we have the work, which we have desperately been crying out for, and not enough skilled workers to do it.

So I urge you all to do what you can to help; encourage new recruits, participate in apprenticeship schemes, whatever it takes. I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why wouldn’t we encourage them into the industry and give them the training they need? They want jobs, and we need newly skilled recruits, it’s a win-win situation for all.