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Monday, 5 December 2016

Closing the skills gap: Part 1 - Schools and their influence

As I have discussed in previous posts, the construction industry skills gap is something that at some point will affect us all. Previous figures suggested there are 182,000 construction jobs to be filled and importantly, this is not taking account of new projects either announced or on the horizon. With projects such as Hickley Point C already affecting labour available for current projects and the announcement in the Autumn budget of major infrastructure projects going ahead to support the planned increase in housing, such as Crossrail 2 and HS3 in addition to the planned Heathrow expansion, something needs to be done urgently.

I wrote before that an immediate solution for this would attracting millennials as there is a general lack of interest from this age group in the industry. They could be key to filling the void in the short term if we could engage with them. However, for a long term solution, we need to look to a younger generation, to primary and secondary schools for a source of future labour. Research shows that those who have a family member or people close to them working in the construction industry are significantly more likely to take a job in the Built Environment. Those with no connections are very unlikely. So how can we change this?

We need to look to students still at school. Reaching children who have not made their minds up about a career and therefore their academic route - GCSE choices, A-Level choices, BTECs etc or even apprenticeships - could be the difference as to whether they are able to enter the industry easily or not and it is far more likely that they would if they didn't need to go back to school to get required qualifications. The main issues seem to be a lack of knowledge of what career options are available in construction, a lack of interest in the industry, and a pre-conceived idea of what working in construction is like. The problem with these 3 issues is that there is little engagement between the industry and schools to change this. Whilst the industry talks about it, they don't do that much, and schools are no better, saying they want to be involved but in reality do not promote the construction industry as a good employer and on the whole do not engage with construction employers.

Organisations such as BESS Programme and Class of Your Own have been set up and fully engage with schools, pupils and the construction industry. BESS - Built Environment Skills in School is a project which aims to inform pupils in school and further education about the opportunities available to them in the Construction industry. The programme recognises the issue of the skills gap in the industry and is seeking to address this but it can not be left to one or two organisations to deal with whilst the industry sits back and just talks about what can be done.

We, in construction, have a responsibility to ensure that we inspire the next generation so that we can ensure the skills gap closes. If we continue to only discuss and not act, the number of construction jobs that needs to be filled will continue to rise well above the current level of 182,000. However, what is clear is that it is not just a lack of action by the construction industry, but also a lack of engagement by schools and a lack of knowledge and understanding of students and their families who are likely to be the ones giving careers advice. It is vital that schools are more pro-active and give pupils options, but it is equally important that they have access to material and resources in order to do this.

There are easy ways to engage with this generation through organisations such as BESS who. If you would like to get involved with the Built Environment Skills In Schools Programme, you can follow them on Twitter @BESSprogramme and visit their website to create a 90 second career video that will be used to inspire the next generation of construction professionals. Find more info at

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