Construction Plant News’ Kieran Nee attended the CPA conference earlier this year.
The new conference of the Construction Plant-Hire Association (CPA) and its Training on Plant in Construction (TOPIC) is ideally placed to confront and attend to one of the biggest issues facing the construction industry in the near future.
Bringing together over 70 key front line figures from across the industry, including hirers, manufacturers, contractors, clients and training providers, the forum’s aim was to discuss the causes and consequences of the current skills shortage within the industry. Furthermore, the forum offered a great opportunity to share fresh ideas on how to minimise the impact of the shortage and how to attract new people into the industry.
The all-day forum was led by the Chair of the TOPIC Group, Bob Harper, Head of Training at A-Plant, and a number of speakers outlined the skills agenda from their perspective. These comprised Paul Whitehead from Highways England, Paul Allman from the Hawk Group, Ed Hudson from Liebherr GB, Michael Bashford from the Costain Group, Simon Keen from Reaseheath College and George Walton from Keith Cook Training. As Bob Harper put it, the day was “all about questions, rather than answers”.
Scale of the Problem
Paul Whitehead from Highways England spoke about the difficulties the skills shortage is putting on the delivery of infrastructure projects in the UK. The national organisation has delved into the figures to paint a picture of just how big the skills gap could become.
“On the supply side, we’ve estimated that 270,000 jobs were lost in the industry after the recession. Going forward, around 430,000 workers are expected to retire between 2010-2030, during which time a further 30 per cent of the workforce will turn 50.”
Add to that a reduction in EU workers joining the industry and the UK’s infamously low productivity and you are left with a huge strain on future projects. The UK’s infrastructure is in dire need of attention, and with that in mind the government has pledged to spend £40 billion by 2025. The major improvements on offer, however, will struggle to come to pass without finding a resolution to the dwindling workforce.
New Talent in Old Places
Hawk Plant Hire’s Paul Allman, head of Hire, Earthworks & Training, outlined to the conference what steps they were taking within the hire industry to alleviate the skills shortage.
“We’re focusing on recruiting apprenticeships throughout the UK,” Paul explained, “and when we start a new project, we turn to the local community and try and recruit and train from that area as well. Another area we focus on is trying to get more women into construction.
“I travel around a lot of building sites and it’s interesting to see the make-up of the people working there. It’s 95 per cent men, and also very white. It’s clear we’re not doing enough to attract a more diverse workforce.”
It’s not only focussing on improving diversity that can help the skills crisis, as Paul told us, Hawk has begun looking left and right of the industry to find untapped potential.
“We’ve also focussed on the armed forces, especially as you can expect them to be a good employee, reliable and with a good skillset. We want to hire people who have been forced out of the forces for injury, PTSD or various other reasons. We’ve also worked very closely with the prison sector. One of the big issues prisons have is reoffending rates, if we can offer the necessary skills to prisoners so that when they leave prison they can get a job, and not simply go back into what they were doing in the first place, we believe we can solve two problems with one solution.”
Michael Bashford from the Costain Group highlighted in his speech the need for the industry to adapt to modern technology in order to grow, streamline and attract fresh faces. Michael started: “We, Costain, not actually suffering from skills shortages or bringing people into our business. Rather, the problem we have is with technology and integrating technology into our systems.
“We offer training free of charge to our supply chain partners to ensure everyone is working to the same standards and efficiency. Internally, the focus is on productivity and skills as we have a lot of people in our organisation who are getting older. These people have a wealth of experience and knowledge and we need to find new ways of enhancing and sharing that. I developed a Front Line Management programme within Costain, funded through the Apprenticeship Levy, in order to impart the knowledge held by our senior staff to our more junior members.
“A lot of our staff members who have traditionally come up through the trades don’t necessarily have the basic technological skills required for report writing. They have all the technical knowledge for the job but are lacking skills when it comes to presenting data and information to clients. Therefore, we are going back to basics to deliver those core skills, and training them to use new technology.”
Michael finished up by contemplating how technology could ultimately attract young apprentices into the industry, a topic that was discussed and debated later in the afternoon. In the spirit of the forum, it’s a question that must, for now, be left unanswered. Any ideas, however, would no doubt be welcome!