With the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit making headlines over other social issues in recent times, it could be easy to forget that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. Yet, as Jackie Biswell from Apex Roofing explains, the effects of two national lockdowns and an economic recession on the construction industry are only going to emphasise that crisis.
With the UK government aiming to deliver hundreds of thousands of new homes every year, you may assume construction firms would be licking their lips.
Unfortunately, reaching government targets is not as straightforward as simply handing out contracts to eager firms across the country.
An increasing population and the nation’s less than helpful appetite for secondary residences has seen the demand for new builds soar, increasing the need for skilled tradespeople such as bricklayers and carpenters.
However, demand for these workers has not been matched by supply, and as is the case with most issues, coronavirus hasn’t helped matters.
The first 3-month national lockdown saw training provisions dry up and education stop, start and stutter as we navigated an alien approach to work and learning.
Now that we are all used to distancing, mask-wearing and elbow-bumping, and on the path back to the ‘old’ normal, it is clear that the construction industry is key to the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
Building huge numbers of new homes not only creates jobs and puts money back into our economy, but it also provides affordable housing to those who will need it now more than ever before.
Construction jobs: ‘unskilled or undesirable’
But we are evidently not doing enough to encourage young people to join this noble cause.
Dwindling numbers of skilled tradespeople suggest that young people are opting for careers in other industries.
It is not difficult to assume why – there is a negative stigma around careers in construction that our decision-makers can no longer ignore.
A common misconception is that jobs in our industry are unskilled or undesirable, prompting young people to opt for careers that appear more stable and less laborious yet offer a competitive rate of pay.
Perhaps the shrinking supply is about a lack of awareness of the huge array of opportunities available in the construction industry.
The career choices of recent generations mean that the construction workforce is an ageing workforce.
Although these workers have the skills and experience to remain valuable to the industry, meeting government house-building targets will rely on producing many, many more of these skilled workers.
Although the pandemic hindered construction training and education, projects have continued throughout both national lockdowns and will continue into 2021.
Pressure building faster
For an industry with a workforce on the wane, pressure on construction firms is building much faster than they can build themselves. It is about time the sector took a new approach to recruitment.
Efforts concerning education and awareness must be doubled to provide young people with a full and true insight into the industry as they embark on their careers.
If people were aware of the careers the construction industry can offer from a young age, the nation would likely see many more signing up to industry-relevant apprenticeships and courses.
Much more needs to be done in schools and the media to educate children, parents and teachers on the positive aspects of such careers.
Jobs in construction must be highlighted as an option for young women, too – this industry is male-dominated and the stigmatic belief that its jobs are better-suited to men is something that has to change.
Better education should secure the industry’s future, but what about now?
Promoting construction apprenticeships as an alternative to college or university would provide young people with the abilities they need to bridge the current skills gap, while filling important roles that could help the government reach building targets.
During the pandemic, Apex Roofing have recruited three new apprentice roofers who are now settled in experienced teams and are working towards careers in roofing.
Our apprenticeships have come with a considered structure including on-site training and block release to ensure that they can enjoy successful careers, rather than merely being drafted in to increase numbers. A new approach must focus on longevity.
But in the short-term, a sure-fire method for increasing on-site efficiency would be to re-train the existing workforce with simple skills, be they organisational or physical, that maximise the potential of workers from all age groups. After the coronavirus pandemic, it is easy to see just how important the construction industry is to the UK – so I see few reasons why it shouldn’t be just as easy to give it the support it so desperately needs.