Mind the gap

We can all agree that there have been some strong signs that, after years of dips and peaks, the economy is finally seeing some steady growth and our industry has the healthiest pipeline of work from both the private and public sectors for the past five years. As a result, the CIOB has predicted that we'll have around 182,000 new construction jobs to fill by 2018, which is obviously great news but we can't get too excited. With this surge come new challenges, the most urgent of which is the looming skills gap. We have a worrying shortfall in a skilled workforce and the gap needs to be plugged, urgently.

The Prince's Trust and HSBC announced this month that over a third of businesses face a skills crisis, and with the construction sector set to grow by 10% in the next two years*, it's no surprise that we'll be most effected by the impending skills deficit. As an industry we therefore need to step up, and quickly, to find the solution.

There are plenty of options for us to nurture new talent and it's a responsibility that I'm proud to say Wates has recognised for some time. For the last five years we've worked with Liverpool John Moores University to help deliver its World of Work employability programme – just one example of our efforts to support undergraduates in their transition into employment.

Of course, investment in training is the best way to up-skill the next generation and networks such as the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce GTA are key in creating sustainable apprenticeship opportunities. Our delivery of HOME at First Street for example, has enabled us to welcome six apprentices to site so far, giving them a live project to provide practical experience – an excellent educational tool.

Obviously, apprenticeships are nothing new and it's important to find new ways of engaging with the future workforce at the very early stages of career preparation. In 2012 we began a three-year Business Class partnership with St John Bosco Arts College in Liverpool, through Business in the Community (BITC). Throughout this relationship we've held mentoring sessions and practical workshops to help develop the vocational skills of young people.

On a national level Wates is also proud to be a part of the UK Contractors Group's Born to Build campaign, which targets 14 to 19 year olds to provide opportunities to raise awareness of the extensive range of careers our exciting industry offers.

My point is that it's one thing for contractors to concern themselves with a shortage of skilled individuals, and I'm not trivialising this by any stretch, but what good is it ramping up skills training if young people don't make the choice to explore a career in our industry in the first place? It is for this reason that Wates continues to commit its time to ensuring that school leavers don't discount the diversity of our industry.

We're in the healthiest position we've been in for five years and job creation in construction in July hit its highest level since April 1997** – definitely a cause for celebration. Let's not celebrate for too long though as indulging in the temptation to rest on our laurels would be dangerous. Let's instead use our growing market strength to ramp up our investment in young people.

* Construction Products Association, ** Market/CIPS

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