To get a glimpse into how we are taking practical steps to bridge the skills gap needed to respond to the UK’s housing needs, you just have to witness the apprentices who have come through a new fast-track scheme that we’re backing expertly laying rows of bricks on one of our live housing sites.
At the centre of this skills shortage is an ageing skilled workforce and a lack of new entrants. Even those who train up and qualify won’t always have the necessary site-ready skills. This cocktail of issues means the housebuilding and construction industry faces an unprecedented challenge.
It’s a UK-wide problem but a local response may be the way forward. That’s why we’re piloting a scheme with a further education institution in the Midlands, Burton and South Derbyshire College, to equip students with site-ready skills, entice experienced trades into teaching roles and encourage new, unemployed and ex-armed-services personnel into the sector.
We’ve grouped this into four key areas where we can play a part, and perhaps others can, too:
Progressive colleges are increasingly looking to work with housebuilders and their supply chains to identify gaps in construction training to ensure time is spent learning relevant skills.
In response, we’ve created an education group comprising St Modwen Homes staff and supply chain representatives to review and continue to review course content. This should ensure students have the right working knowledge.
Providing real-world experience
It is vital for students to experience live working environments. We’ve selected one of our nearby housing developments where students are installing foundations on which bricklaying students work to real drawings to construct homes. As a result, they are much better prepared to start building from day one of their first job.
Increasing routes into the sector
With a desperate need for skilled workers, the sector has to promote alternative routes to training for those looking for a change in career. We have identified ex-military personnel and the recently unemployed as prospective recruits into the sector. To support this, we are running 10-week training courses. We’re also partnering with a local Jobcentre Plus to identify recently unemployed individuals.
Encouraging industry professionals to teach
Further education colleges struggle to recruit and retain high-quality staff who possess both industry and teaching experience. Colleges are faced with the reality that, on average, people can earn 20% more in industry than they can in teaching. Consequently, we are designing a programme that gets industry professionals into teaching as quickly as possible, and offers them the prospect of salary top-ups.
With St Modwen set to build 1000 homes in 2019, we recognise the part we can play in tackling the mounting need to grow new talent, boost skills and improve entry routes into training.
If others follow, we can help build a sustainable education infrastructure that meets the challenges faced by our sector, promotes diversity and supports the next generation of skilled workers.
Mark Allan is chief executive of St Modwen Properties