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Construction skills shortage must be addressed to fit government manifesto

The government plans to build 300,000 more houses by 2025 to combat the housing crisis in the UK.

With homelessness on the rise and many families living in unsuitable conditions, the need for rapid house building is huge. However, people have questioned the practicality of building that number of new homes in a short space of time.

Prime minister Boris Johnson stated in his party’s manifesto that the government will “commit to renewing the Affordable Homes Programme, in order to support the delivery of hundreds of thousands of affordable homes”. This commitment is a great way of tackling the housing crisis by making it easier for people to get on the property ladder.

Creating a workforce to build affordable homes

In order to fulfil the 300,000-home target, the UK needs to seriously address the skills shortage in the property and construction industry. with the market crying out for a greater number of fully qualified professionals.

There seems a genuine fear that a post-Brexit skills shortage could lead to fully qualified tradespeople increasing their rates, having the knock-on effect of causing overall building costs to increase. With the current state of the housing industry in the UK, these rising costs are a big obstacle to reaching the government’s target.

Businesses and the government need to invest in training and skills in order to offset the reduced number of professionals in the industry. There are numerous ways this could be achieved – such as tweaking existing apprenticeship programmes or creating new GCSEs and A-levels in design, engineering and construction.

New schemes will need to fulfil a combination of the following solutions:

  • Creating more opportunities for people starting a construction career
  • New government initiatives
  • Competitive apprenticeships
  • Cross-training existing employees
  • Upskilling or supporting colleagues looking to obtain qualifications

Both industry and government are enacting policies to tackle these skills shortages. For example, the government and Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) have partnered to create training hubs at 26 live construction sites, which will develop 17,000 job and site-ready workers.

Unfortunately, with an estimated 158,000 new construction workers needed in the UK over the next few years, this scheme only makes a small dent in developing the number of professionals the industry needs.

Addressing property and construction stereotypes

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to engage new talent into considering a career in the property and construction. To do this, the sector must promote the different types of roles which are available to jobseekers.

The industry needs to change how it is perceived by the public. It has historically been stereotyped as a low-skilled, manual labour sector, which is not the case. Project management, architecture, town planning, surveying and environmental design are all highly skilled roles that are essential to reaching the government’s target.

The CITB’s Changing Perceptions survey found that only 32% of careers guidance professionals had a ‘good’ knowledge of the industry. This is worrying, especially with the remaining 68% of respondents describing their knowledge as ‘not good’ or ‘limited’.

This lack of knowledge about the sector narrows its talent pool. Businesses need to employ the right professionals, who have innovative ideas and the capability of creating spaces that can adapt to the changing community and climate. To do this, the sector needs to reach and attract these individuals in the first place.

The jobs exist, the demand for housing is unlikely to relent, and the government and industry are ready to invest. But, for the UK to build 300,000 houses in five years, the workforce has to grow.

To source skilled property and construction professionals for your organisation, or looking to start a new role within the industry, contact your local Reed Property & Construction office.

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