By Billy Hodgson, executive chairman, Hodgson Sayers.
I was very pleased to see that Northern Counties Builders’ Federation collaborated with Hartlepool College for an event in which ready-for-work young people had the opportunity to speak to some of the North East’s leading construction companies. Hodgson Sayers was in attendance and the report that came back was very positive.
Initiatives such as this are important and, indeed, Hodgson Sayers has, for many years, taken on trades apprentices, many of whom have forged great careers and we have had more than our fair share of the team win national awards for their skills and expertise.
I came into the industry as an apprentice, as did so many of the people we have employed over the years, and it is vital both for Hodgson Sayers and the industry as a whole, that we have a strong pipeline of new blood coming through all of the time.
One only has to look at the skyline of our cities and towns to see that the construction sector is highly active and growing. The sector in the North East has been very lively during the last two years and this is set to continue. However, it is widely thought that up to 50,000 new workers are required across a variety of disciplines in the UK construction centre in the next three years, with the North East requiring up to 10,000. While specialist skills in sustainability, carbon and technology will be in high demand, there is a severe shortage of general trades and skilled labour, which is not helped by an ageing workforce and a serious lack of middle-aged workers.
Whilst there are some fantastic further education facilities in the North East, such as Hartlepool College, who engage with employers, it is important that more secondary education pupils are encouraged to enter the construction industry and we need to find a way to begin a conversation with them. They need to be made aware that the sector is dynamic, fast-paced and offers well-paid careers. At the same time, there is a view that adult re-education programmes are not sufficiently funded to re-direct people into construction and this is something on which the industry really must lobby. There are many very talented people who would be keen to change careers and enter the sector but the financial restraints around retraining, are not helpful.
The sector has a golden opportunity to embrace diversity. To enrich the industry with different experiences and perspectives, attract and retain new recruits, the industry needs to become more appealing and inclusive to a wider talent pool and to take advantage of the changing society in which we live.
The future is bright and we need positive intervention by the government over funding and for trades bodies and individual companies to reach out to colleges and schools to promote the sector to young people.