034 RCI 0717

RCI July 2017

SKILLS & PERCEPTIONS OPINION Auf Wiedersehen Pet to the old in favour of new ideas to solve skills crisis I’m showing my age now, but when I was a teenager one of my favourite TV programmes was Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The nation stopped what it was doing each week to watch the exploits of Oz, Bomber, Neville and the rest of the motley crew working on a German building site. We loved them, their shenanigans and the fact that they made working on a building site appealing. Fast forward a generation and one of my children’s favourite TV shows is The IT Crowd. If anything exemplifies the generational career shift and highlights the skills shortage in the construction industry, this is it. “My mates did the same thing” I was destined for a career in construction because my father was a plumber and I earned money as a youngster helping my dad before I left school. A lot of my mates did the same thing, getting labouring jobs to earn money at weekends and in the school holidays. That was our pathway into this industry. Nowadays, working on zero-hour contracts in retail, fast-food restaurants or call centres seems to be the route that most young people take to earn money before aspiring to careers in sectors that didn’t exist a generation ago, such as tech support, app development and digital marketing. 034 JULY 2017 RCIMAG.COM By Simon Smith, managing director of Bracknell Roofing I’d argue that building houses is still more important than building websites because everyone needs a roof over their heads because it fulfils one of our basic human needs – along with food and water. There’s no point lamenting how this happened: the point is, what can be done about it? Andy Williamson from IKO UK Group made some smart observations in the June edition of RCI, where he suggested collective industry action for everyone to do their little bit. He’s got a point, but that puts us on the horns of a dilemma. Even though we are one of the UK’s largest roof, slating and tiling contractors and install more than 6,000 roofs per year, we run a tight ship. We could feasibly divert some of our existing head office resources into dedicated training and support that would have a wider, more proactive remit around issues such as apprenticeships. I haven’t got a problem with the fact that this would sacrifice profit in our business – even at a time when the economic outlook is more precarious than it’s been in years. But we’d be taking a leap of faith without a safety net. I applaud Mr Williamson’s company for putting its money where its mouth is and having 17 apprentices across IT, engineering, customer services, technical support and production. It’s a fantastic accolade – but we’re a world away from what we really need because our biggest single requirement is specialist roofing skills. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation. There aren’t enough courses that are local to us where we can conveniently send roofers to do NVQ Level 2 & 3 in slating and tiling; we have a crazy situation at the moment where we’re having to send people from Northampton up to Leeds for training. This is compounded by the fact that it’s been all hands on deck for a while now and our order book is very healthy. We’re stretched as it is, so there is very little spare capacity when it comes to hands-on training. So what do we do? Your guess is as good as mine but coming back to the original point, there’s not enough demand from young people wanting to enter the industry to make more local courses readily available. Where I really agree with Mr Williamson is that every business in the construction industry should rightly be puffing out its chest to demonstrate the pride for the industry as part of a collective movement to promote careers in construction. But that alone isn’t enough, and where I take a different view is that I do think that the government could do far more to support the industry – especially when you consider the size of our industry’s contribution to the UK’s GDP. Praise where it is due because there are Simon Smith, managing director at Bracknell Roofing undeniably some positive governmental actions, such as the Apprentice Levy and the Trailblazer Apprenticeship standards – but more work is needed to attract fresh blood into the industry and make sure enough formal training is available to develop those people and keep them in the industry for the long-term. And, while I’m on my political soapbox, we shouldn’t lay the blame on schools for not effectively signposting careers in construction because of the austerity in education. Surely it follows that if school budgets are squeezed so tight that they can't maintain basic needs like sustainable class sizes, then they will have little resource or time for working with businesses to develop student interest and opportunities in a sector of industry they probably have little empathy for or interest in. Possible path I never thought I’d hear myself saying this but our industry can learn a valuable lesson from a recent political “success” story. Love them or loathe them, the Labour Party has been applauded for the way it utilised social media to not only mobilise millennials to vote for the first time at the recent general election but also to vote Labour. If a political party can reach young people and influence them, surely it highlights a potential opportunity for the construction industry to tread the same path. It’s not the complete solution – far from it. But it does resonate with the ‘modernise or die’ philosophy that emanated from the Farmer Review that was commissioned last year to look at the labour model in construction. Surely there’s got to be some bright sparks within the construction sector that could do for this generation what Barry, Moxey, Dennis and Wayne did for my generation? www.bracknellroofing.com “I’d argue that building houses is still more important than building websites because everyone needs a roof over their heads”


RCI July 2017
To see the actual publication please follow the link above