Closing The Construction Skills Gap With Measurable Initiatives

The Construction Industry needs 1 million new workers for the industry to continue growing. Willmott Dixon are more than ready to play their part in 2024.

Addressing the construction skills gap

It’s a well-known industry fact that for UK construction to continue growing and improving as a sector, significant investment is needed in attracting new talent. The reasons as to where this scarcity originated are multiple – a Brexit exodus, a historical perception of construction as a strictly manual, unskilled career and the mentality that a university degree trumps any trade are often cited as the leading causes.

These leading causes have formed a domino effect – immigrant labourers who started out as a casual labour and moved into areas of expertise leave, leaving behind a skills gap, whilst would be UK job-seekers, having never been informed otherwise, still see entry-level construction vacancies as something of a “dead-end” and not worth pursuing, likewise those traditional apprenticeship programs paying people to upskill while they work have become unfashionable compared to the perceived opportunities offered by a university degree.

However where there are problems, there are opportunities. The cost of university admission has never been higher. Meanwhile, the white collar world that university traditionally trained for has become increasingly automated through advances in technologies such as AI. There are still jobs, but those jobs are simply not as well paid as they once were. The dream of a cheap few years at university before landing a nice job in the city still exists, but it’s no longer the experience for the vast majority of graduates, who will ultimately end up in considerable debt before pursuing low paid entry level roles for several years upon graduation.

Meanwhile, construction remains one of the few industries on earth where it’s truly possible to be paid to learn on the job. Major companies – including Willmott Dixon – offer either free or paid apprenticeships, with a career growth path encompassing training, exams and qualification ensuring whatever a potential worker’s skillsets are, they will be able to pursue them to their fullest and build a rich, specialised and highly monetized career off the back of it.

The mechanisms are in place, what’s perhaps needed is for construction to talk more openly about their unique zero-to-hero capabilities that few, if any other industries can claim.

Getting Boots On The Ground

Willmott Dixon has long been a proponent of said zero-to-hero program. Over the last 3 years we’ve worked with 1520 individuals on 310 sites, with our free training initiatives generating an equivalent industry training cost of £4.75 million. Of those 1520 individuals, 304 went on to be hired either by Willmott Dixon or by our active supply chain, whilst likely that number again went on to work for other companies or their supply chain in the sector.

In 2024, having reviewed site activity and training capabilities, Willmott Dixon would like to increase those numbers across the board by 80%. Why?

The ROI for customers of Social Value

Philanthropic aspirations aside, construction firms need to be able to provide tangible competitive value to their customers with every single project – both in the cost efficiency of the project involved and the final performance of a customer’s completed building.

Willmott Dixon’s extensive work with the SCAPE framework has involved a renewed focus on the job-creation aspect of the suite of initiatives referred to on any given project as Social Value. Throughout the course of some 36 projects comprising £678M worth of value, Willmott Dixon & Scape Learned:

Labour Availability

  • Having a plentiful supply of apprentices who were by definition rotating through multiple roles on site allowed for day to day casual labour gaps to be filled, speeding up project delivery times significantly
  • Having apprentices trained through a central program rather than brought in from external recruiters meant no “re-training” was needed, and so time from classroom to site was drastically reduced.

Local industry

  • The use of apprentices facilitated the use of local supply chain suppliers, which in turn led to an increase in the use of local alternative suppliers who were on the whole, significantly more affordable to national material suppliers. In fact 91 such alternative suppliers were found in this way.

  • Apprentices also assisted sites with community regeneration – public gardening and painting to the value of £1.2 million, worth that otherwise would have been picked up at a cost by the local authority – typically the same customer as commissioned the project.

Repeat business and expertise

  • With practice comes expertise. As construction sites started to use apprentices and local suppliers on an increasingly committed basis, the efficiencies of both improved, reducing project costs and time and allowing sites to pass that value onto the customer’s end product.

Through careful experimentation and measurement, Willmott Dixon’s efforts with SCAPE have taught us that, much more than a box tick, a committed social value programme can reduce industry skills gaps and, most importantly, generate tangible value for our customers.

Read our SCAPE case study here

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