How the UK government plans to fill the skills gap in construction

Apprentice construction Ellis Fox Blog

A recent report estimated that more than a quarter of a million workers will be needed in construction between now and 2028. As a result, government has singled out construction as one of the sectors to benefit from skills development.

It’s an ambitious plan with good intentions. The problem is that closing the current skills gap is already proving hard to achieve. What difference can this proposed bootcamp make, and is there a role the industry can play to maximize the potential impact?

One of the major debates in the UK is on tightening of immigration laws. It’s been both applauded and criticised. On one side there’s the view that British residents are losing out on job opportunities due to foreigners. On the other hand, if Brits don’t have the right skills, industries can’t grind to a halt. Immigration has a role to play in filling key skills gaps.

This new government program plans to bring together various stakeholders including ministers from the department of Education, Home office, Treasury, and Trade and Industry. The idea is to provide training for local citizens so that they’re equipped to enter the construction industry.

The challenge is that learning still needs to be backed up by on-the-job experience, and it’ll take years before participants in the program can boast of a degree of proficiency. If this is to be accelerated, it’ll require industry participation by making apprenticeships available.

This in itself presents yet another challenge to the construction industry. The industry is already hugely under pressure, managing tight budgets with limited resources. Taking expertise away from projects in order to mentor and train apprentices could place projects at risk. Equally, expecting senior professional to take on even more responsibility and do this in addition to their existing responsibilities is also a big ask.

Construction and infrastructure are caught in a catch 22. Skills are needed urgently and there is no simple solution. But if help is being offered from outside of the industry, it should be welcomed. Especially as construction has not been able to bridge the widening skills gap in years.

Whatever the reasons: a poor perception of the industry, bad policies, or entrenched habits that hinder progress, the obvious answer is that something needs to change. Skills development won’t happen on its own. Despite its constraints, construction has a vital role to play.