Construction skills crisis – How many school leavers know that they can earn £40k as a bricklayer?
While there is no shortage of debate and column inches devoted to the construction skills shortage, One Way, the specialist construction recruitment firm, which celebrates ten years in the sector this year, feels that the problem is a little more fundamental.
“To me the problem is twofold, says Director of One Way, Paul Payne. “When the recession hit, hundreds of people left the construction sector, now it’s booming again but many of those that left have either let their cards lapse or are nearing retirement. The other issue is education – who ever hears a careers advisor talking about a job as a crane driver or plant operator? And yet, in our office in Wales, plant operators five years ago were being paid £10 per hour – today, depending on the category of plant they are operating, they can be paid anything up to £20.00 per hour – that’s equivalent to over £40k a year – more than quite a few professional jobs! It’s the same for bricklayers. Five years ago in Wales we were looking at £12 per hour –today’s rates, depending on experience and the level of responsibility held, can be up to £20/£25 per hour.”
Payne says he doesn’t understand why the Government is set on sending so many people to University when there is such a chronic skills shortage in the construction sector. “We should be encouraging more kids into vocational careers – because with the level of infrastructure investment we are seeing, those are the skills that the country actually needs. You only have to look at cases such as 19 year old Ashley Mullins who was featured in the Daily Mail recently earning £2000 per week as a plumber after a two year training scheme.”
According to Construction Skills, the training body the industry needs around 35,000 new entrants just to stand still and The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that the UK will need a million new engineers and technicians by 2020 – “a sobering thought,” says Payne.
“The fact is we have tuned into a service based economy which means that we are now having to rely heavily on a migrant workforce – a workforce that is skilled, hardworking and reliable. If they all went home, I dread to think what state our economy would be in!”
There is also the knock on effect on the professional “white collar” sector which is also seeing a dire skills shortage. “There are just not enough people coming up the ranks,” adds Mike Ward who runs One Way’s well established Construction Professionals division. “If you take Quantity Surveyors as an example, they can almost name their price as they are in such short supply. The Quantity Surveyor is a business critical role as they both make organisations money and save money. Unless we do more to ensure a consistent pipeline of talent, things will only get worse.”
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