Blog: Bricklayer shortage highlights importance of attracting talent

By Andy Walder, principal of the National Construction College

Andy Walder
Andy Walder

Headlines about builders hiring bricklayers from Portugal on £1,000 a week have caused quite a stir this week.

It’s a very dramatic headline, but it does highlight the urgent need to get skilled workers from across the industry back into the sector, as well as the importance of attracting young people into careers in construction.

While much of the media coverage focused on foreign workers being shipped in, at the very heart of the story is the fact that work is picking up.

At CITB, we know from our latest Construction Skills Network report that the industry is going to need another 200,000 skilled people over the next five years.

At the same time, some 400,000 members of the existing workforce will reach retirement age in the coming decade. That is not to say that all these people will choose retirement, but some will which will only add to the skills deficit.

If people are going to be encouraged to return to the sector, or to begin a career in construction, the Government needs to demonstrate a new level of commitment to its much-publicised infrastructure projects, such as those announced in last week’s Autumn Statement.

If swiftly approved and delivered to plan, such projects provide a degree of certainty to skilled workers who may be looking to return to the sector.

If we are going to get people to come back, there must be prospects for employment for the foreseeable future. Without this, people will understandably stay away.

There also needs to be a renewed commitment to apprenticeships as a way to bring new candidates into the industry.

Apprenticeships have been much-lauded by the Government as a means to future job growth and we are continuing to work with Government on developing apprenticeships that meet the needs of employers.

From October this year a partnership of employers, supported by CITB, has begun leading a ‘Trailblazer’ project to improve construction apprenticeships in England.

Encouragingly, recruitment for apprentices is up 20 per cent this year which shows that, despite the recent economic challenges, employers are looking to invest in the future of their business and their people.

There is a long way to go to meet the expectations outlined by Doug Richard in his Review of Apprenticeships in 2012.

However, with the right commitment from government to infrastructure projects and an employer-led approach to apprenticeships, a lasting revitalisation of the sector can begin.

  • Andy Walder is the principal of the National Construction College, which is the biggest construction training provider in Europe and focuses on creating a skilled, safe and professional UK construction workforce. He is responsible for all the functionality of the College, together with its mission, strategic direction, resources and profitability.
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