The next generation will lead the way in decarbonising our planet

7 min read

We have experienced an exceptional time over the last 22 months like many industries. We have navigated our way through the pandemic and set ourselves ambitious targets to transform the way we deliver much needed housing and infrastructure and, more importantly, we have embraced net zero carbon more than any other industry.

We’re moving from a construction to a production industry - we’re embracing digital innovation. The use of robotics is evolving faster than at any time and we’re developing new materials to reduce carbon and increase productivity that will improve wages.

As a sector we have grand ambitions, and over the next ten years we will need to create at least 80,000 new jobs to meet the forecasted demand. We must secure the very best talent to lead the way in building more sustainably.

I am, of course biased, but I truly believe we’re one of the most exciting industries - with such broad opportunities, clear career development pathways and multiple routes of entry. Our industry is one of very few that truly creates a lasting legacy. We build facilities that will enable development of life-saving vaccines; new production studios for films, documentaries and tv programmes; better homes, and data centres for the huge amount of cloud storage that is required every day. We even build facilities for space exploration; I could go on and on.

Despite all the positives, we still have both a capacity and skills challenge and we must do more to raise awareness of the opportunities in our sector.

What we need is action from industry - industry bodies and Government - to create new jobs. In March 2021, I worked with the Construction Leadership Council to spearhead the Industry Skills Plan for 2021-2025.

The skills plan clearly frames our collective problem. We said then that we needed to add 25,000 apprenticeships annually, while improving diversity. But today that is not enough, we must set a stretch target to increase apprenticeships to 40,000. We must embrace T-levels and we must promote and utilise Talent View to attract capable and enthusiastic young people to join our sector. Of the sector’s 3.1m employed people, only 10% are under 25, which underlines the mountain we have to climb.

Part of our challenge to attracting and retaining young talent is the Apprenticeship Levy. Set out by the UK Government in 2017, it seriously lacks the flexibility to help us ramp up the number of apprentices we can train annually. A recent survey from London First showed that not enough companies are spending the full amount of their apprenticeship levies and are only allowed to transfer 25% of the unspent levy to their supply chain.

The CLC’s skills plan called for the Government to increase the cap in unspent levy transfers, so more SMEs in the supply chain would benefit. The Government listened and made changes, but sadly just 11 companies across the entire sector have committed to pledge some of their unspent levy to SME’s needing our support, which is an embarrassment.

Through the CLC’s Industry Skills Plan we also identified accelerated routes into apprenticeships from further education and the provision of pre-apprenticeship experiences, supporting SMEs to offer job placements through the Kickstart scheme’s Gateway Providers.

Only by working together – Government, construction employers, Construction Leadership Council and Department for Education - can we make routes into construction more accessible. I am sure that if we increase the visibility and accessibility of our fantastic opportunities, we will inspire young people to join us.

And we’re now training people to build the future. As we invest more and more in modern methods of construction, the more we will rely on digital skills and sustainable, smart delivery solutions. Our next generation of skills are green and digital and we must continue to innovate.

We have to do everything in our power as a sector to remove the barriers for young people to choose construction careers. National Apprenticeship Week is a great UK Government initiative and it provides a platform to shout about the incredible career opportunities we have on offer.

We must support and encourage every young person who is looking for a long-term career and support them to make an impact, while ensuring they have truly purposeful careers that leave a lasting legacy.

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