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Skills shortage could put UK infrastructure ambitions in jeopardy

Published by , Editor - Hydrocarbon Engineering
World Cement,

With 20% more workers required to meet the pipeline of around £96 billion of construction projects in 2014 – 17, the London and South East is facing a major skills crisis. According to a new report by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and KPMG, this could impact the wider economy as early as April 2015, when a total of over 600 000 workers will be needed onsite to deliver major projects currently in planning. The report, ‘Skills to build’, outlines the labour requirements to deliver construction projects in London and the South East between 2014 – 2017 and the gaps in training that must be filled to meet this demand.

The industry has experienced great difficulties in recruiting enough skilled workers to keep pace with new work. According to the report, a 51% increase in training provision would be required to meet demand for skilled labour between 2014 and 2017 to plug a gap of nearly 15 000 people. Unless the supply of construction labour is increased, house-building targets will not be met and the delivery of large infrastructure projects will be jeopardised. With 255 000 workers needed onsite to deliver the 2015 pipeline of housing and 400 000 of the workforce expected to retire in the next 5 – 10 years, change to the industry has never been more important.

The KPMG/LCCI report includes the following recommendations to help fill the skills gap:

  • Infrastructure UK should drive a commitment to embed skills and employment requirements in public procurement contracts, aimed at both Tier One contractors and suppliers.
  • The government should ensure schools provide obligatory, quality and unbiased careers advice from Year 7, and submit annual careers reports evaluating the range of careers and training options covered.
  • Local authorities should maintain and share a pipeline of future projects, with skills responsibility and funding devolved to the most appropriate level of functional economic activity, to enable the commissioning of demand-led training provision.
  • The Skills Funding Agency should convene industry bodies and representatives to redesign training and apprenticeship frameworks to reflect modern methods of construction, and disseminate them for adoption by training providers.

Richard Threlfall, KPMG UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction said: “For the first time in many generations, the UK has a strong pipeline of construction and infrastructure projects to reinvigorate the economy and drive our future competitiveness. But delivery of that pipeline is now in jeopardy – not for lack of political will or funding – but for lack of a sufficiently large and trained workforce. Unless action is taken now, our housing targets will be missed, and infrastructure projects delayed.

“This report calls on the industry itself to wake up and take responsibility to increase levels of training dramatically. It also calls on government and training providers to recognise that the industry is changing, with ever greater application of technology and a trend towards offsite manufacturing – the skills required in the industry tomorrow will be very different from the skills required today. And above all it calls on all in the industry to take steps to boost the image of the construction sector as an attractive career path for the next generation in our schools and colleges.

Colin Stanbridge, Chief Executive of LCCI said: “Our members have long spoken to us about their difficulties recruiting sufficiently skilled workers. The detailed findings of this report highlight just how grave skills shortages are in the construction sector, with significant deficits of capable workers across numerous trades and professions.

“Our task now is to enact changes to address the inherent issues which have led to the construction skills crisis we face. We are delighted to have partnered with KPMG on this report and look forward to working with government, training providers and industry alike to implement the solutions suggested.”

Adapted from press release by Rosalie Starling

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