6 Nov 2014 09:18am

Skills shortage threatens UK infrastructure

UK infrastructure ambition is in serious jeopardy due to an unaddressed skills shortage, according to research by Big Four firm KPMG

Skills to Build, a joint report by KPMG and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), states that unless efforts to increase the supply of construction labour are ramped up, major projects are at risk of falling by the wayside.

KPMG’s head of UK infrastructure, Richard Threlfall, called on the industry and government to “wake up” and recognise the challenges that are occurring in the sector.

Migration Matters Trust – a think tank – also agreed with the report’s findings, saying that it highlighted “the simple truth” that it was important for the UK to “welcome the contribution of migrants” in order to save its creaking infrastructure.

Threlfall said, “[The production] pipeline is now in jeopardy – not for lack of political will or funding – but for lack of a sufficiently large and trained workforce.

“Unless action is taken now, our housing targets will be missed, and infrastructure projects delayed.”

Colin Stanbridge, CEO of LCCI described the skills shortage as “grave” and said it was now important to address the issues facing the sector.

Stanbridge said, “The detailed findings of this report highlight just how grave skills shortages are in the construction sector, with sufficient deficits of capable workers across numerous trades and professions.”

Skills to Build estimates that in London and the south east, 20% more workers will be needed in order to meet the £96bn worth of planned construction projects from 2014 – 2017. If these requirements are not met, the area will suffer from a major skills shortage.

This is an issue that goes to the heart of the biggest issue of our country – of people not having a place to live

Richard Threlfall

From April 2015, more than 600,000 workers will be needed on site to complete major projects that are currently in planning.

Additionally, 255,000 workers will be needed on site to deliver planned housing projects from next year, but the report also predicts that some 400,000 construction workers will retire in the next five to 10 years.

Atul Hatwal, director of Migration Matters Trust, said delivering on the construction plans was “critical” to UK prosperity, saying that the contribution of migrant workers was also critical to see the projects to completion.

“In the short term, we face a stark choice,” Hatwal said.

“Either we stop building, with projects moth-balled and workers are laid off, or we welcome the contribution of the migrants who will enable these projects to be completed, boosting employment for British workers and renewing Britain's creaking infrastructure.

“There must be more investment in domestic skills and training, but it is vanishingly unlikely that the public funding will be found, and committed, in sufficient time to plug the skills gap for projects that are about to start.”

KPMG and the LCCI warn that unless rapid change is made within the construction sector, housing and infrastructure plans will not be met.

Talking to economia, Threlfall explained that one of his greatest concerns was the lack of enthusiasm in schools for construction, saying that the government needed to do more to encourage apprenticeships in the industry.

“One of the things we are most concerned about is that schools seem to think their success is ultimately determined by the number of pupils they get into university.

“We think that there is a need for the government to taking the lead in giving schools direction,” he added.

Threlfall did not lay blame solely at the feet of schools, saying that teachers had more than enough to be getting on with. He also acknowledged that the wider industry was not as good as others – such as the financial and legal sectors – at promoting itself to new talent.

“The industry has not done a good enough job of selling itself,” Threlfall said.

“What we hear time and time again, is that when young people find themselves in the industry, they never want to leave. It’s a fantastic job to hold but too often they end up there by accident.”

He added that the problem was of a national concern, saying that limited construction would only exacerbate the housing shortage across the country.

“This is an issue that goes to the heart of the biggest issue of our country – of people not having a place to live,” he said.

Skills minister Nick Boles said that the government, and the department of business, innovation, and skills (BIS) was working alongside the sector and urged construction employers to develop the industry’s future.

“Maintaining the supply of skilled workers is key to the growth of UK construction,” Boles said.

“That’s why we are working closely with the industry to ensure it has the talent it needs, and to give thousands more people the opportunity to work in this key sector.

“We are giving leading construction firms, both large and small, the power to design new high-quality apprenticeships and I urge more employers to take the opportunity to develop the workforce of the future.”

Oliver Griffin


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