Skilled approach needed
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Yorkshire’s construction sector is being boosted by high demand for new housing, major infrastructure programmes and the continuing appetite for commercial development.
The opportunities are clear. So, too, are the challenges it faces when it comes to bridging the skills gap.
The new Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy’s talent and skills plan estimates that 4,500 additional jobs in construction will be need in the city region by 2024, including workers in managerial roles, site supervision, project management and off-site construction.
And it quotes a recent review of the sector’s labour model which, based on the existing age and current levels of people entering the industry, predicts a 20-25 per cent decline in the available labour force within a decade.
Attracting new entrants to the sector is, the report says, “a critical challenge.”
It’s not just a Yorkshire challenge. A national report on the sector by Sir Oliver Letwin, commissioned by the government and published last month suggests a shortage of bricklayers will have a “significant biting constraint” on plans to boost the number of new homes built from 220,000 a year to 300,000.
To meet the shortfall it calls for 15,000 more bricklayers, almost a quarter of the size of the current workforce, to be trained over the next five years.
And earlier this year the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) revealed two-thirds of SME construction firms were struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters as construction skills shortages hit a ‘record high’.
Chief executive Brian Berry said: “Skills shortages are sky rocketing and it begs the question, who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the government is crying out for.”
And firing a Brexit warning, he added: “Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse, and it is not in anyone’s best interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system.”
The government responded to concerns last month with the launch of a £22m Construction Skills Fund will bring training to construction sites – allowing learners to apply their knowledge in a real-world environment.
The 18-month scheme aims to support 20 on-site training hubs in England, work experience and placements, “entry pathways” for the unemployed and help for “career switchers”.
Housing minister Dominic Raab said: “A construction workforce with new and innovative skills is essential to building a housing market fit for the future.”
Construction and developers in Yorkshire are also working to tackle the skills shortage and to attract and develop more skilled workers into the sector.
The Forging Futures Campus at the Kirkstall Forge development in Leeds delivers an innovative new training programme.
An initiative involving CEG, Wates Construction and Leeds College of Building, it provides vocational training in a live construction environment helping to deliver the next generation of architects, tradespeople, developers and engineers.
In the latest course 20 16-24 year olds successfully completed the course. It is designed to give an introduction to construction skills and provide exposure to employment opportunities in a variety of industry sectors.
And out of the first 12 participants, five have already secured employment or apprenticeship interviews, with the remainder pursuing pathways to further training and education with Leeds College of Building.
One of those to complete the course was 16-year-old Sam Vandenbriele. He said: “It has really helped me to decide which career I want to forge and has provided valuable work experience and interview opportunities to help me get there.”
David Hodgson is CEG’s head of strategic development in the North. He says that fewer people entering the sector coupled with an ageing existing workforce is adding to the skills challenge it faces.
He says: “As an industry we need to look at more innovative ways of getting people into construction.”
And that includes working with more young people to persuade them the construction industry is “the place to be.”
The next generation
Students at Leeds College of Building are gaining hands-on construction experience after visiting their new £13m Hunslet campus site.
Main contractor Clugston Construction started work on the foundations and ground works last October. Since then, a total of 186 student site visits and 14 group tours have been organised.
As a result of the project, two bricklaying students are due to start work placements on site. Additional placement opportunities are being explored with contractor Clugston and project supply-chain partners.
Leeds College of Building has received an £11.9m investment through the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Deal for the project – a £1bn package of government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across the city region.
Deputy principal Derek Whitehead said: “Developing the employability skills of our students is a key strategy for the college, which also links in with the Leeds City Region Employment and Skills Plan and addressing the skills gap in the construction sector.
“Site visits and work placement opportunities provide students with invaluable experience; they benefit immensely from being able to experience life on a live site. What’s even more rewarding is that the students will be able to make informed decisions on their career paths in the industry.”
Roger Marsh, who chairs the Leeds City Region LEP, said: “The new Leeds College of Building centre, in Hunslet Road, will lay the foundations for students all over the region to start their careers in the construction industry, helping us to address the skills gap in the sector and boosting our economic growth now and in the years to come.”
The Leeds College of Building campus will help equip 6,500 students a year with the skills they need to succeed in the construction industry.
The college will offer a wide range of the traditional courses within the facilities including mechanical and electrical, plumbing and heating programmes, as well as being able to provide more training in the ever-expanding area of BIM technology.
The number of college students taken on as apprentices by sustainable urban developers Citu is set to double as a result of a pioneering new environmental project.
After nearly 12 months of groundworks, Citu is now on site constructing a £125m Climate Innovation District in Leeds’ South Bank, building environmentally-sustainable timber-framed homes at their purpose-built Clarence Road factory,before assembling them on site.
The regeneration project has led to a significant recruitment drive. The employment boost will see the number of College of Building students double from 12 to 24 within the electrical, plumbing, and carpentry and joinery trades.
Ian Billyard, chief executive and principal at the college, said: “We are delighted with the project; it certainly demonstrates to students how buoyant the sector is right now.
“Citu approached the college for help with their recruitment process, and a number of students were put forward. It’s testament to the training that takes place at the College that 12 of these will be rewarded with an apprenticeship.”
When fully geared up, the factory will produce 200 houses a year rising to 750. Citu has plans for 1,000 homes on various sites across the country as well as selling to other developers.