It’s no secret that as construction in London gathers pace, skilled workers are in demand. By April, KPMG predicts we’ll be 150,000 skilled workers short in London and the South East.
The skills gap, which opened through job losses caused by the recession, could only begin to close when the recovery started, but that is now under threat without the right skills.
But — cliché maybe — with every challenge comes opportunity. As we set about rebuilding a construction workforce with future-proofed skills, so those of us with resource and influence can lead the industry to a state where for the first time it reflects the capital’s diversity.
Land Securities is leading the charge. Construction across London may just be warming up, but as early as 2010 we put ourselves on the skills shortage frontline by breaking ground at developments across Victoria and the City.
At 20 Fenchurch Street, with the floors almost full and the Sky Garden open to the public, we’ve proved that the diverse talent needed to deliver a complex building does exist. Decades of experience contributed to the building’s success, but we could not have achieved this without the previously unemployed Londoners who completed training on site, including over 100 who made the transition into full employment.
Many of these, like 30-year-old Carlene Brooks, had never considered a career in construction. Since 2011, Carlene had struggled to find a full-time job while juggling studies, volunteering, part-time work and raising her family. Following a referral from Jobcentre Plus, our employment programme enabled Carlene to complete training and secure a full-time position with Brogan Group as a scaffolder at the Sky Garden. Women still only account for 11% of the construction workforce, but Carlene proves it’s possible to thrive in a male-dominated industry — once you know the door is open to you.
So how did we find Carlene, and others like her, and what experience from our three years of developing through a skills shortage can we share? To improve the diversity of the sector, we must employ diverse recruitment methods, which means playing a part in both academic and non-academic routes into employment.
Tapping the academic route allows us to train and employ candidates via local schools and colleges. We engage with under-16s through to post-graduates, as well as people new or returning to work. Lack of awareness can all too easily be mistaken for lack of talent, so our own staff deliver activities designed to demystify the sector and explain the kinds of skills we need.
Careers fairs, scholarships, and mentoring programmes are complemented by initiatives like the Introduction to Property Development course at Pimlico Academy and the Sir Simon Milton UTC, a purpose-built school, which, when it opens in Victoria, will train 14 to 18-year-olds for jobs in engineering and construction.
We work with a network of referral partners to engage with individuals not on an academic path. Partners like Jobcentre Plus help us match up many groups, including young people not in education, employment or training, with opportunities at our sector-based work academies, which provide pre-employment training, work experience and a guaranteed job interview. In partnership with HM Prison Brixton, we help rehabilitate offenders by offering training and employment as part of a release on temporary licence scheme. Partners like Mencap help us find the right training for people with a learning disability and homeless charities the Cardinal Hume Centre and The Passage have referred candidates who are now in full-time employment at our Nova, Victoria site.
So while our vision for a more diverse sector is single-minded, it calls for us to explore multiple avenues. To ensure we do everything in our power to lead industry-wide change, I am urging my peers, partners and supply chain to join Land Securities in shaping a workforce for the future, and recognising we are in a privileged position to not just build buildings but change lives.
Colette O’Shea is managing director of the London Portfolio at Land Securities - read more about their routes into employment here.