If we have any hope of achieving housebuilding targets we cannot rely solely on the existing pool of construction labour, according to a recent publication called ‘People and money: fundamental to unlocking the housing crisis’ written by build and design consultants EC Harris.
Experts agree that the workforce will need to expand if we are to tackle the housing crisis which is currently spinning out of control. Unfortunately, statistics show that the opposite is currently happening, with the construction industry attracting less than 20,000 first-year trainees in 2013 - 5% of the total number needed to meet the 1 million worker target required to get Britain building.
The industry is relying heavily on migrant workers at present, which although it will play a key role in any immediate future expansion of house-building, it does not tackle the long term issue of nurturing the next generation of builders within this country. Migrant labour should be a pressure valve for UK, not a long-term solution to our failure to recruit and train. The current target is to build 200,000 houses per annum, a noble figure that may be outside the realms of possibility without a large enough (and indeed, skilled enough) workforce.
Due to the ageing workforce of skilled construction professionals who are now approaching retirement age, it is estimated that approximately 700,000 workers are planning to leave the sector within the next 10 years. Data provided by EC Harris indicates that even at peak levels of new entry experienced in 2005, the industry was still attracting far fewer new entrants needed to both replenish a diminishing workforce and help deliver ambitious building targets.
Unfortunately, the construction industry - and housebuilding in particular - is currently not structured in such a way that supports investment in long-term training and skills development. It is therefore necessary that we reform our training methods in order to ensure we are attracting much-needed new blood into the sector. New trainers will need to be recruited, which will take away capacity from the frontline, which could prove to be a laborious and costly exercise. Ultimately, this will pay off in the long term and promoting housebuilding as a good career option should be at the forefront of future business models going forward.
Training is a complicated area for the house-building segment due to very high levels of self-employment and the fragmentation of the supply chain. The house-builders have their own training programmes, but with most labour employed in the supply chain, the responsibility for training usually rests with subcontractors. The contracting segment of the industry - more often associated with house-building for developers and housing associations - has a more mature supply chain which will be better equipped to invest in training than the housebuilders.
To summarise, EC Harris believe that opportunities are increasingly created through collaborative models which address the constraints that are built into current ways of working and other external factors. By aligning long-term income-led investment with viable collaborative development models, the right investment climate for innovation in the supply chain and the labour market can be created that will create the step-change in the delivery of housing that the UK so desperately needs.
To read the full report click here.