A construction revolution

With Brexit closing the doors on many highly-skilled workers, Paul Richards of Aquarian Cladding Systems discusses the struggle to bring young people into the industry and why MMC techniques can provide a solution

It’s no secret that the construction industry must work harder than ever to attract young people into the industry and to re-skill those who have perhaps reached a crossroads in their careers in other industries.

Right now, the whole country is going through a consolidation period because of Brexit and the pandemic, with staff shortages affecting many industry sectors. It has been reported that large online retailers are paying as much as £22 an hour to their drivers, making it very difficult for sectors reliant on lower-skilled labour to compete.

Due to the unsettling nature of coronavirus, it’s also been reported that baby boomers who are ‘empty-nesters’ and have paid off the mortgage have made life decisions to retire early. You can hardly blame them but who will do the jobs they once did?

Traditionally we’ve been able to turn to Europe to help with our labour shortages but for now, Brexit rules and rhetoric have not been inviting so while the Europeans stay at home, solutions have to come from this side of the Channel.

For our industry to recover and grow post-pandemic, we’ve got to re-skill individuals looking for a change in career and engage with the younger generation living in England right now.

Struggle to engage
This is easier said than done. For any industry to be sustainable it needs to evolve both organically and by bringing in new, fresh ideas making it essential that we encourage energetic and creative talent on board to take the industry forward.

Unfortunately, the industry’s perennial struggle is in engaging with a younger generation and thinking ‘outside of the box’ in terms of our message of encouragement for them to join us.

I’m disappointed and frustrated to say that our company struggled to find an apprentice for six months this year and the cladding industry is being affected by recruitment difficulties and the skills shortage.

That said, the apprenticeship providers we’re engaged with are saying they haven’t had many applications for apprenticeships for any sector as we come out of the pandemic, so we are not alone. But if the cladding industry does not start resolving these issues now, we may see a detrimental impact on the growth in our sector.

Our industry must therefore behave smarter than others and do something about it. If we get what we’ve always got by doing what we’ve always done, then the message in our invitation must change

to get the desired results. Fortunately, we have a powerful message with a wide range of opportunities to offer to young people, as they look to take their first steps in their career.

The key messages
Only by engaging better with young people will we be able to get rid of misconceptions and negative views they might have around construction which are currently proving hard to shake.

Our industry is the second highest paid sector in the UK and can offer a long-term career in an environment that is constantly growing and evolving.

It’s responsible for building homes for the future, schools and universities, to produce future world leaders, research labs to find cures for the modern world’s illnesses and to prevent environmental disasters, green energy plants for cleaner fuel, and transport hubs to enable us to explore the world.

Future generations can either talk and protest about climate change or join our industry to truly make a difference. There is no more rewarding place than the construction industry to turn words into action.

Driving improvements
The continuous failure to encourage more labour on site now means that whereas a reduction in construction time used to be the greatest driver and commodity in the industry, it’s now its people.

So, if we can’t find the people to do the work, then the materials and the processes must be able to compensate to do the work instead, which is why offsite manufacturing and other forms of modern methods of construction are a huge part of the solution.

Smart, progressive businesses will find a modern solution, and excel. Those stuck in the past, who fail to change their ways, will fall behind. I know which side of the fence I’m on. Do you?

Paul Richards is managing director of Aquarian Cladding Systems