Published On: Fri, Feb 5th, 2016

Construction, football, girls and turning to youth to fill the skills shortage

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brandonThe government has asked the construction industry to probe and remove potential barriers preventing young people from taking up careers in construction and come up with a solution to tackle the skills shortage that threatens to cripple the industry.

If the government was a football club, this latest move would be the equivalent of a team short on players; experienced first team players edging past their peak, turning to the youth academy in the hope the youngsters will take their chance and fill the gaps left by the lack of senior pros.

Or perhaps it would be more apt to compare them to the FA attempting to solve the issue of the lack of young English talent coming through the club ranks and progressing to the national team.

The 2008 housing crash hit the housing industry hard and led to the loss of 250,000 jobs within the construction sector. In their efforts to fill the skills gap, the Housing Minister Brandon Lewis and the Skills Minister Nick Boles have tasked the industry with investigating if existing business models are preventing the industry from developing the skills it badly needs and also looking into increasing alternative methods of construction, such as offsite manufacturing.

The government will be looking for their own Class of ’92 or Barcelona’s famous La Masia production line to build the huge number of houses needed to fulfil its target of creating one million new homes by 2020.

Unlike the FA, they are unlikely to be able to blame expensive foreign imports blocking the path or young workers and succumbing to the glamorous lifestyle of a construction worker. The possibility of being led astray by a member of the latest band to hit the headlines? Highly doubtful but the ever-increasing high wages of construction workers, particularly those who ply their trade in London, make the prospect of a career in construction rewarding nonetheless.

A recent report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) revealed construction wages rose by six per cent in 2015 primarily due to the skills shortage. Simon Rubinsohn, RICS Chief Economist, commented: “Industry wages are becoming increasingly attractive, and I would hope that over time this will encourage skilled workers to return to the sector, as well as drawing school leavers and graduates towards construction industry careers.”

The promise of earning well will no doubt encourage some but planting the seed of interest in the industry early in a young person’s is surely the way forward.

So what do the young people we’re talking about think the answer is? UK Construction Online spoke to 16 year Charlie Cooper, currently undertaking a Level One Construction Course at Blackbird Leys College, and asked him what he thought would help encourage more young people into careers in construction.

He said: “Schools really need to engage more with younger people to get them interested in the construction industry. Providing more practical experience, even through simple but effective building exercises, can have a big impact on young people.”

The construction industry’s need to interact with younger people is obviously key but how they go about it is equally as important. There is also another virtually untapped resource that the government should examine and that’s the under representation of women within the industry. The lack of females within the industry is in itself enough of a reason to put women off a career in construction.

The England women’s team certainly caught the nation’s attention with their fine performances at the World Cup in Canada last summer. By reaching the semi finals of the competition, the Lionesses broke down barriers and showed the nation they could give men’s team more than run for their money.

However, perhaps the football analogy stretches further and the notion of the ‘Lad Culture’ associated with football that can put off young girls from attending matches or playing the game also exists within the construction industry. The image of chauvinistic construction workers standing on scaffolding wolf whistling at attractive girls as they pass by is so ingrained in the minds of many, it’s going to take a huge amount of effort to break.

Maybe it even goes deeper than that. Many a parent with a young daughter who has an interest in building are disappointed with toy tool kits, workbenches, etc being marketed and situated in toy stores as ‘boys toys’.

Speaking to UK Construction Online, Jennifer MacDonald, BIM Researcher, Consultant and Lecturer in Construction Project Management at the University of Technology in Sydney, thinks that more should be done to encourage girls at a younger age. She said: “Parents are obviously a huge influence with the way we bring our children up; encouraging girls to think that they can do everything and that it’s not just a boys job.

“We are facing a massive skill shortage generally in the industry, so tapping into 50% of the population would be a big help towards solving it.”

Jennifer also says that education needs to be more “gender inclusive”. She commented: “You may find a number of middle age male lecturers don’t realise that they are unintentionally being biased because we all see thing through our own experience. It’s also likely that if you make courses more gender inclusive you make them more inclusive for everybody.”

Cristiano Ronaldo tells a story of how Manchester United’s Paul Scholes could pick out a tree 50m away and hit it with ball with just the one attempt. The government will be looking for that kind of accuracy in identifying the best way to get young people interested in a career in construction.

As it stands, it is open for debate which has more chance of happening by 2020: the government meeting its target for building new housing, along with its other huge infrastructure projects, or England winning a World Cup or European Championship. Achieving the double here would be some feat.

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