Building Engineer feature - Skill shortages

The challenge of meeting the UK’s housing needs will only be met if we address the prolonged skills shortage, improve the gender imbalance, and suitably train the next generation of workers. In fact,the importance of providing quality training to ensure candidates can thrive in their chosen sector has never been more prevalent.

In 2019, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) estimated that the construction industry will need 200,000 new recruits just to meet demand by the end of 2020. The void caused by Brexit may see some of the 240,000 workers from EU countries leave, further compounding this issue.

The dwindling pipeline of skilled young workers and failure to replace the ageing workforce are the principal causes of this chronic skills shortage across the construction industry. It’s a situation that has been developing for a while. In the roofing sector, for example, there is no next generation of roofers coming through the ranks. Skilled labour is scarce and this means inexperienced labourers are being asked to carry out extremely specialised roofing tasks. To begin to reverse the trend and address the issue of more people leaving the sector than actually joining it, everyone, including contractors, sub-contractors and manufacturers, needs to be on board in promoting roofing as an attractive career proposition.

Those in managerial positions are often skilled roofers themselves, so it’s vital that their passion and knowledge is passed on to youngsters entering the roofing industry. Without this mentoring process, roofing standards will continue to fall. For those hoping to join the construction industry, training opportunities do not easily present themselves. Small companies often lack the resources to upskill the workforce and, in many cases, are unaware of the funding that is available to support training for those hoping to gain an industry-recognised qualification. These qualifications not only boost the ability and confidence of the holders, but also provide proof of their capability in their chosen field, which contributes to the success of their employers’ businesses.

Involving women

Another factor is that women have shown a reluctance to join the sector because of stereotypical and negative perceptions. It has become clear that the industry needs to encourage inclusivity and redress the gender imbalance. In an industry filled with so many opportunities, involving women from a young age can positively shape the future of the roofing sector. Several studies show that women in construction provide a wider pool of opinions, experiences and problem-solving than men. There is also clear evidence that women offer improved decision-making, calmer heads, better communication and are less inclined to take dangerous risks – vital with increasing health and safety legislation on construction sites. In addition to the industry being viewed as impenetrably male, a reason for women’s reticence to commit to a building-related profession could be attributed to the current gender pay gap. For instance, research carried out in 2019 by the RICS and professional recruitment agency McDonald and Company found that on average, men earned 20% more than women in similar roles. Organisations such as Women in Roofing can inspire and support young women hoping to make their way in the trade, but perceptions about the sector being a preserve of masculinity may take many years to dismantle.

Proteus Training Hub

An appreciation of both the importance of attracting younger recruits into the roofing industry and providing a pathway to recognised qualifications h s resulted in Proteus developing an accredited education programme to be delivered from the Proteus Training Hub. Proteus is a Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) Approved Training Organisation (ATO), one of only two UK flat roofing manufacturers to achieve such status. Proteus will be delivering CITB-accredited short courses in: liquid applied membranes introduction; single pack polyurethanes; balconies, podiums and inverted roof systems, and two pack polyurethanes and flexible polyesters. Candidates who complete these courses will have their training information uploaded to the CITB national training register, ensuring their skills are acknowledged by current and future employers.

For small companies, losing an employee to a day’s training costs time and money. Financial recompense is available to offset staff absence but it involves negotiating red tape, which can make building firms reluctant to engage with education programmes in the first instance. As an ATO, it is Proteus’ responsibility to retrieve course fees from the CITB on a contractor’s behalf. This funding is paid directly to the contractor, thus circumnavigating a lengthy claims process.

The Proteus Training Hub and other such programmes that are targeted at both sexes are essential in the drive to develop a better skilled workforce. They not only benefit the wider community in terms of build quality and quantity, but also offer a wealth of personal gains. Knowledge is power, and instilling individuals with greater confidence creates a path that leads to a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. As an industry, we must act as one to ensure the next generation of roofers is fully trained - regardless of gender - and able to work to the same high standard when it comes to the construction of our future built environment.

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