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Housing and the skills gap

The construction industry urgently needs expertise at technical, supervisory and managerial level (Prospect's housing report is kindly sponsored by RICS, Sovereign Housing, Atkins and the Building Societies Association)

By Charles Egbu  

Photo: FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON/DPA/PA Images

The UK needs about 300,000 more new homes per year to keep pace with the growth in population and to make up for years of under-supply. There is need for both new housing and the repair, maintenance, and modernisation of existing homes to address our housing shortage in a sustainable manner. This need for increased house building is happening at time when there is a skills shortage and skills gap in the UK construction industry.

The construction industry urgently needs skills and expertise in all areas of housebuilding—at technical, supervisory and managerial levels. It also needs skills in all aspects of the life-cycle of housing construction. The skills gap for housebuilding is, however, greatest in the south east of England.

There is need for new housing and repair, maintenance, and modernisation to address the housing shortage in a sustainable manner. Technical skills include such skills as bricklaying, joinery, plumbing, crane operating, concrete finishing, electrical works, and insulation to mention but a few. Similarly, supervisory and managerial skills such as leadership, decision-making, communication, team building, negotiation, risk management, conflict management, quality management, and health and safety management are equally needed.

The nature of modern construction is changing. Clients are demanding and they expect more. At the same time, technology is increasingly finding its place into the housing and construction industries. The effective use of technological developments and innovations in housing and construction should help with addressing some aspects of the skills shortage. Technology alone will not solve the problem, however.

So, arguably, the skills and knowledge needed for housing are those needed for both traditional and modern methods of construction. With technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics (BDA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) finding their way into construction, and rightly so, we need to equip construction workers with the skills to use these new tools.

Unfortunately, we do not have the number and quality of construction workers to meet the demand for housing. The levels and nature of existing education and training  for both technical and none technical skills are nowhere near what is needed.

The industry needs to increase its talent pool. It needs to take diversity and inclusivity more seriously than is currently the case. The industry needs more female workers and Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers. It needs to improve its image.

At the same time, the industry needs to attract and encourage more young people into the industry, while providing a conducive environment and motivation to keep the older workers in the industry. The younger generation needs an environment that is responsive to the mental health needs of its workers. Construction organisations need to take education and training more seriously, and invest for the present and the future, if it is to address the skills crisis in housing in a serious and sustainable way.

Several new approaches are needed. These include formal and informal, and on and off-the job training. In this regard, the role of apprenticeships is important, and the roles that employers, colleges and universities, professional bodies, and governments (central and local) play are important.

Apprenticeships, at different levels, provide workers an opportunity to be trained, whilst working with employers. Colleges and Universities also need to do more in terms of equipping students and learners with requisite skills needed for the housebuilding of the 21st century.

The industry is beginning to embrace new technologies and processes in the design, construction and maintenance of housing construction. Education and training should also reflect these changes.

An integrated approach is needed to address the skills shortage in house building, one that involves retaining existing construction workers, recruiting new workers, providing adequate education and training for skills acquisition, and improving the construction business model.

As we work towards addressing our skills shortage, we should not ignore the importance of quality education and training. At the end, the construction industry needs construction workers who can deliver high quality housing and built assets. It is good quality housing that improves the quality of life and well-being of its users. That, ultimately, should be our aim.

Read the new housing supplement in full

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