Future skills for the built environment?

Representatives from industry and academia gathered on Friday 26th February at an Institution of Civil Engineers’ breakfast meeting to hear about, and discuss how skills shortages could affect the delivery of future infrastructure major political leaders are backing and that that the country desperately needs.

Stephen Fox CBE, CEO BAM Nuttall, Ray Dickinson, Vice Chair ICE East Midlands, Matthew Newman, Deputy Head of Faculty – Construction, Meg Hankinson, Strategic Partnership Adviser, CITB.
Stephen Fox CBE, CEO BAM Nuttall, Ray Dickinson, Vice Chair ICE East Midlands, Matthew Newman, Deputy Head of Faculty – Construction, Meg Hankinson, Strategic Partnership Adviser, CITB.

Infrastructure spending and house building were a focus of the November 2015 spending review, but without the right skills, the proposed investment in infrastructure will come to nothing. The built environment profession needs to address the major skills shortages running through its industry.

So what can the industry do? How can we ensure we have the skills readily available to meet the needs of these large projects in the UK? How can businesses tap into the Government's trainee and apprenticeship schemes? How do we assess what skills we actually need and in what time frame? The aim of the breakfast meeting was to try and provide answers to some of these questions.

Meg Hankinson, Strategic Partnership Adviser CITB Midlands, opened the forum by outlining the case for more human resource recruitment in to the construction sector. Between 2016 and 2020 construction output in the East and West Midlands is projected to increase by 1% and 1.7% respectively, on an annual average basis. Both are set to underperform the UK rate of 2.4% over the same period. To meet the national growth 232,000 new construction jobs need to be created in the UK by 2020, and 120,000 new apprentices needed by 2018.

Meg said that CITB's research shows, "Demand will be a mix of skilled existing workers and new entrants, employed and self-employed, but the greatest demand by % of employment will be in bricklaying, logistics, civil engineering."

Stephen Fox CBE, Chief Executive of BAM Nuttall spoke about possible reasoning for the lack of young people entering the construction industry saying that approximately one thousand civil engineering graduates do not enter the profession on completion of their degree courses for one reason or another.

Stephen said, "The industry is possibly seen as low tech and therefore not as exciting and fast moving as the technology industries that are being promoted in schools and colleges. Construction needs to change to become more exciting and develop innovative processes and solutions to encourage our next generation of engineers."

Stephen then went on to speak about BAM Nuttall's apprentice training initiative in the East Midlands, working with Stephenson College to train the apprentices to fulfil its recruitment requirements. Each apprentice earns whilst they train and reach qualified technician status at the end of the training period. Such is the success of BAM's approach that in 2015 BAM Nuttall achieved 5% of total new ICE membership (10% considering technicians only.) (ICE membership: 90,000 approx. 29/02/2016).

Matthew Newman, Deputy Faculty Head – Construction at Stephenson College outlined the routes students could take when studying at the college. Matthew explained how Stephenson College worked with BAM Nuttall to provide a training course tailored to BAM's requirements which developed a career path for the apprentice rather than just a job.

Matthew talked about how the college markets their apprenticeship courses though open days, school visits, careers events and the apprentice and UCAS websites. He then posed the question on how to attract more apprentices into the construction sector and highlighted the visible change in site hoardings which are now being used more as public information boards. "The next step on from this would be to provide information on these hoardings on how to get involved in making built environment projects reality? Perhaps we should include career path information, QR codes linked to training courses and apprentice case studies to stimulate interest our industry?"

An open discussion followed promoting the need for the careers' system to function more effectively by persuading more schools to be open to visits by colleges and industry to provide careers advice to help pupils make more informed decisions about their further and higher education, highlighting the routes to advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships as well as traditional degree routes.

Molly McKenzie, ICE East Midlands Regional Director said "Today we heard about an impending crisis which will affect the delivery of future building and infrastructure. Industry cannot turn its backs on the skills shortages issue and hope it will disappear, we must act now. We have a great task ahead of us in providing the infrastructure needs for a functional society and must bring educators and business together to highlight the fantastic opportunities open to young people in our industry. We must inspire our next generation of skilled engineers and give them the skills sets they need."


National Apprenticeship Week 2016 runs from 14 to 18 March, celebrating apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

In a statement published in The Independent on 29/2/16, Business Secretary Sajid Javid MP; said the New apprentices' levy is nothing to fear, companies can keep the cash if they fund their own training schemes. Companies made to pay the tax from next year would be able to keep the cash if they use the money to fund their own schemes.