Collaborating for Construction Skills


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Trowers & Hamlins were delighted to host a panel discussion on Collaborating for Construction Skills earlier this year bringing together key players delivering inspiring initiatives to rebrand careers in construction and attract the future generations of construction professionals.

The panel was chaired by Mark Farmer of Cast Consultancy and author of the eponymous Farmer Report, looking into the labour model within of the construction sector, "Modernise or Die" in 2016. Mark is also trustee of the charity MOBIE, which is the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Education founded by George Clarke as an education charity to train and inspire young people to innovate in the design and construction of homes in the UK and abroad. The charity's purpose is to attract and inspire future creators of the built environment through exciting new technical vocation courses and schools outreach programmes.

We were also joined by Carol Lynch, Chief Executive of the Construction Youth Trust. The Construction Youth Trust is another charity inspiring and enabling young people to overcome barriers and discover a career in the construction and built environment sector. The Construction Youth Trust has focused on building long term partnerships between schools and the construction and built environment sector to change perceptions that many teachers, parents and young people have of the industry.

Alison Watson, MBE and Founder and Managing Director of Class of Your Own Limited, also works very closely with young people in schools and she has developed a bespoke course, entitled "Design, Engineer, Construct," (DEC) which is taught in schools across the country to pupils aged between 14 and 18 to provide them with an all-round understanding and knowledge of key aspects of the construction sector. Alison has engaged with the construction professionals who support the DEC teachers running the course in schools and ensure that the course material is up to date and relevant. The aim is that students can walk straight into apprenticeships with major contracting companies and/or embark on further education in the construction sector, such as training to be an architect or surveyor.

Shenaaz Chenia, Director of Industry and Community Training at Saint Gobain spoke of her work with Youthbuild which is a charity working with a variety of public, private and third sector clients to provide training, qualifications and employment to disadvantaged young people in the construction industry. Youthbuild focuses on children at risk or excluded from school and young offenders and provides construction training in lieu of community service and also offers traditional apprenticeships and employment-led vocational qualifications for adults.

Our audience, drawn from all areas of the construction sector, were able to gain understanding of the charities and organisations which can facilitate connections between their businesses and schools and the community to generate interest in careers in construction and how they can reach out and support apprenticeships, training and work experience opportunities.

We also heard from clients engaged themselves in a programme of promoting careers in construction. Scott-James Eley, Head of Learning, Skilling and Employment at Lendlease, explained how Lendlease are engaging with both young people and entrants from other sectors to make the construction workplace more diverse and inclusive. James spoke of their work in embracing flexible working patterns, joining up skills and training opportunities and improving the image of the sector. Chris Keates-Lewis, Board Director of TFT, a development, built assets and sustainability specialist consultant, also provided her industry experience of the difficulties engaging with young people and how those barriers can be overcome through promoting diversity and engaging talented people who think differently.

One of the key findings from the panel discussion was that there are extraordinary pockets of best practice emerging across the country within individual contracting, consultant and client organisations. However, many of the attendees advocated a joint approach, supported by government, as being the only way to ensure that the construction industry recruits and retains the skills needed to implement the building programmes of the future. It was especially interesting to hear the panel's views on whether the apprenticeship levy is working for the construction sector and how in some cases the levy is not reaching new entrants and is being diverted into training and upskilling existing staff. We also discussed how public bodies should be prioritising skills in their procurements and the potential impact of the changes to the Social Value Act which are currently under consultation.

Mark Farmer summed up the panel discussion by reinforcing the need to speed up the changes that had been made by innovators and disruptors within the sector, as illustrated by our panel. He noted that implementation of diversity and inclusivity programmes within organisations needs to be faster and more joined-up and that in order to win the race for talent, the construction sector needs to present a wholly refreshed image and narrative of what working in the built environment sector represents.

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