September, 2018

Industry links with colleges vital to meet future construction skills shortages

Plans unveiled in the most recent Budget revealed the UK government’s ambition to back construction skills with £34M being dedicated to training in skills including bricklaying and plastering. A national retraining scheme, backed by the TUC and the CBI, will contribute to upskilling the nation to meet the demands of future construction industry requirements. This will extend to the largest housebuilding programme since the 1970s with £15BN of new financial support making a total investment of £44BN including a government commitment to deliver more than 300,000 new homes each year until 2022. Over that period, it is expected that 232,000 new jobs will be created in the construction industry. How will the UK’s colleges and training providers help to equip this new workforce to meet the challenges of this massive boom in 21st century building?

Colleges have long recognised that they need to work together with partners in industry and increasingly, leading manufacturers and building contractors recognise their vital role in this relationship.

By its nature, further education cannot remain forensically close to the construction industry. It exists to provide a solid footing for students to enable them to enter employment with the qualifications and skills they need to start meaningful careers. But it cannot successfully do this without the close involvement of manufacturers, housebuilders, and commercial and industrial contractors that embody the workplace that students will join.

Colleges and industry are increasingly working together with the support of local enterprise partnerships across the UK to address skills gaps and meet the specific needs of local and regional businesses.

Here we look at what this means in practice and why it is so important for organisations within the construction sector to forge strong relationships with colleges and training provider

Future-proofing skills

Manufacturers will always be at the forefront of innovation in construction materials. Moved by the commercial imperative to keep up with the demands of the market, these organisations have adapted over successive years to keep in step with their customers in terms of the latest building processes. They are well placed to help colleges by donating products that enable students to work with the best construction materials available.

Ultimately, it is in the interests of manufacturers such as Forterra to invest in the future supply of skilled bricklayers. As well as ensuring that students have the resources they need to successfully complete their training, they can also benefit from an insight into the world of employment, giving them a head start.

It all adds up

Colleges fight a constant battle to interest students in maths and English when they have signed up to learn brickwork, plumbing or carpentry. These students are practical by nature and more enthusiastic about learning the hands-on skills of their craft. Students often associate maths and English with the school and the classroom they have so recently left behind.

Bricklayers need to be able to read drawings and calculate the amount of bricks and mortar required for each job. Plasterers need to be able to assess the square meterage of a room or building to provide accurate estimates of cost. Carpenters need to know how much timber they will need.

Putting maths and English in context helps students to understand that functional skills and GCSEs are essential requirements of their qualification and that failing to acquire them will be career-limiting, preventing them from becoming self-sufficient or self-employed as many are in their sector.

Students may not take their teacher’s word for it but bring in an employer to give them the low-down on what it’s really like in the workplace and the penny starts to drop.

The bigger picture

As the penny drops, young people start to understand the context in which they are working. The construction industry needs high-calibre candidates. It is looking for smart, literate and numerate individuals who have a broad interest in the sector and can see how their work contributes to the whole project.

A bricklayer benefits enormously from a site visit to a manufacturing plant, able to see the process by which bricks are manufactured and to gain an understanding of the range of materials that are used in construction projects. London Brick alone has 23 varieties in a range of colours and textures, to match the five million plus homes built using the Fletton brick.

Students that have exposure to different industries realise that they are gaining transferable skills. Bricklayers also need to be able to seal foundations with damp-resistant materials, operate brick-cutting machines, erect scaffolding, and interpret plans and specifications.

Fostering aspirations

With a wider understanding of different materials and types of project, students start to become inspired. There are roles at all levels within the construction sector and employers are looking to spot new entrants with potential to progress in their careers, to become the supervisors, foremen, quantity surveyors and managers of the future.

Students need to hear from industry role models that have started from the same place, in college, learning the basics, serving their apprenticeships. They benefit enormously from meeting successful individuals who have worked their way up to senior positions, or started their own businesses, and who have gone on to reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.

Building resilience

Finally, exposure to sites and plants helps students to understand the realities of working within the construction industry. Full time college courses do not operate 37 hours a week and most working days in construction start at 7.30am rather than 9am. If they are not following an apprenticeship, students’ first experience of the expectations of the sector may be on the first day of a new job.

Brickwork is completed outdoors in all weathers and not in the sheltered warmth of a construction workshop. Visits to construction sites and work experience are invaluable in instilling an understanding amongst students of the realities of a career in construction.

Students are helped to see how a strict set of behaviours and expectations are essential to ensure health and safety. Preparing their expectations will build their resilience and lay the foundations for a solid future work ethic.

With this in mind, the owners of London Brick have launched an ambitious plan to work with colleges across the UK by developing dedicated construction hubs and supporting skills competitions.

Colleges that become exclusive London Brick Construction Hubs will take delivery of a donation of bricks worth £8,000 for their own use. They are being asked to outline ideas for how they would use the bricks to support students’ skills development. A panel of experts will judge the best ideas and six winning colleges will receive their bricks in September 2018.

Successful colleges will also receive brand new equipment for their workshop and merchandise from London Brick for their students and apprentices. In addition, Construction Hubs will benefit from an insight into careers within the industry through site visits and visiting speakers.

Forterra joins many other organisations across the supply chain that are helping to get education and industry working closely together for the success of the UK’s industrial strategy and post-Brexit economy.