Construction sector launches blueprint to attract fresh talent

The construction in the north need to attract new skills into the sector
The construction in the north need to attract new skills into the sector

A NEW 'skills forum' made up of education, government and industry representatives is to be established to address the chronic shortage of new talent entering the construction industry in Northern Ireland.

It is among six key interventions brought forward from a review of the sector, and published in a landmark new industry skills review launched at Parliament Buildings.

The Construction Employers Federation (CEF) has collaborated for the last year with the Unite and GMB unions in a company called Construction Industry Futures, and it has commissioned EY to review the north's construction market and bring forward a series of recommendations for talent intervention.

The skills review took a variety of approaches to better comprehend the sector as it is today and the path ahead, and through a combination of desktop research, questionnaires and stakeholder workshops, it identified the six most impactful interventions that we believe could have the most tangible impact:

• Establish a Construction Skills Forum - it will meet to address key issues facing the industry, with a skills focus, sponsored by an independent organisation for maximal impact;

• Review of apprenticeship delivery model - ensuring apprenticeships are delivered in the most appropriate and beneficial way to best equip trainees for site work, provide them with a holistic learning experience and ensure they remain employed;

• Skills alignment through more effective engagement by and with the education sector - fostering increased dialogue with education (including private training sector) to achieve alignment to the necessary on-site skills through effective skills gap analysis, future planning, and more agile bite-size learning opportunities;

• Review of pay and rewards packages within the industry - maintaining the north’s competitiveness as an attractive employment market to local employees through improved procurement processes, better pipeline visibility, and selling the benefits of a career in construction;

• Technical skills development for typical construction skills - minimising the impact of trades shortages by ensuring technical skills training is widely available for all, through continuous provision of tutors, multi-skilling of trainees, and better awareness of existing skills gaps;

• Promotion of construction in schools - partnering with primary and secondary schools to boost the awareness of construction as an attractive career path through the improved targeting of students, provision of career advice, and an increasingly joined-up approach.

CEF managing director Mark Spence said: “As with every other sector of our economy, construction is facing into a time of great change, and key drivers like the green economy and net zero as well as digitisation, AI and software development in construction and manufacturing processes mean we cannot afford to stand still.

“But in moving to proactively deal with these changes and make the most out of the opportunities they represent, the single biggest threat we currently have is an acute shortage of new skills and talent entering the construction industry.

“Working together with our partners in the trade union movement, we passionately believe that while the outcomes of this Skills Review are deliverable, we equally believe that the only way we can make meaningful progress is by embedding a culture of partnership working that we have seldom seen in recent decades.

“That is why the first intervention – the establishment of a Construction Skills Forum – is absolutely vital.”

He added: “There are already a number of organisations such as Women’s Tec taking major strides to addressing our skills shortage. But what the current approach lacks and desperately needs is a more collaborative approach between the sector, trade unions, CITB, Further/Higher Education, Department for the Economy and private training providers.

“The Construction Skills Forum would, in our model, be responsible for deciding priorities, aligning current activities and driving the skills-related strategic agenda for the construction sector.

“Once in place, it would then drive forward the other five key interventions that our report has laid out through a variety of sub-groups which would bring together those at the heart of our sector, underpinning this work with further data gathering and research to ensure that we are in the best position we possibly can be to flourish into the future.

“This structure, sitting as a core element reporting to the already established DfE Skills Council, can then act as the driver for change which we have long needed.”