The skills gap – the buzz phrase of the moment

The words ‘skills gap’ have been branded on the building and construction industry in recent years. It’s the buzz phrase of the moment, which seems to be continuously talked about – although it’s in a danger zone of becoming all words and no action. Jo Jones takes on the issue and explores the reality of what this skills shortage actually means for the industry, as well as the solutions we need to embrace.

Do you think there is a skills gap in the building and construction industry, and particularly in M&E?

Yes, I do believe that there is a skills gap in the industry. The phrase ‘skills gap’ is now used so commonly in relation to our industry, that it’s in danger of just being a talking point, rather than a priority that requires action.

Mechanical and electrical engineering is still considered to be an enigma amongst our own industry peers, so imagine how much more ambiguous this is to those looking to prepare students for college and careers in STEM.

I do think that we are suffering the long-term impact of the financial collapse in 2008, when people decided to leave an uncertain construction industry behind and pursue a career elsewhere. This loss of confidence in the sector meant that there was no one to inspire the next generation of STEM students coming through the workforce, and in turn levels of graduate recruitment fell at a rate of knots.

What action do you feel needs to take place to foster new talent entering the industry?

We need to showcase building and construction as an attractive career path for the next generation. This will involve an all rounded effort, with input from businesses to schools and colleges. Their needs to be investment from higher educational institutions, to ensure the courses are available for the career paths in this industry, and it doesn’t stop there, the courses need to be marketed to students, publicising the opportunities available if they do embark down this road.

There are a few universities that are already doing this, including De Montfort University (DMU) who we are currently in conversation with, which is in the process of developing a building services course and partnering with businesses to secure apprenticeship opportunities. DMU is one of the few that has acknowledged the skills shortage in this specific discipline, as well as the need for education to be matched with real-world business experience.

How do you think businesses can help plug this gap in skills?

Businesses are equipped to play a huge role in closing the skills gap and there are three things that I think would make a huge difference. Businesses need to be open to welcoming apprentices into their workplace and making the time to involve them in projects, so they can get this real-world experience. I believe that an industry apprenticeship blueprint is needed to align businesses on this mission and ensure we are all working to the same goal.

Mentoring is also a really effective way to support the next generation. I mentor someone who attends the West Midlands Construction University Technical College, which isn’t time intensive, but gives them support when they need it, as well as a soundboard for any industry related questions they have. Businesses need to connect with schools and colleges to build this mentoring scheme.

Lastly, to boost the attractiveness of the industry, businesses need to be communicating the opportunities through attending career road shows and proactively going into schools to educate students of the industry.

To hear more from Jo Jones on the skills gap, keep an eye out for our BSD Bulletin printed publication that will be available in March.