New Homes Debate Overview – Tackling the industry skills shortage

Our marketing team at Thomas Gray had a brilliant morning at the New Homes Debate held by Whathouse?. Hosted by William Hague, former Leader of the Conservative Party and UK Foreign Secretary, the construction industry skill shortage was discussed along with how Apprenticeships, Training, Diversity and Leadership all have an impact on this.

The morning started with the introduction of Tanja Smith, Technical Director at Gradon Architecture and Chair of Construction Route Panel, raising the subject of the apprenticeship levy and the aim to reach £2.8 billion between 2019 and 2020.  The low starting salaries of apprenticeships within the industry also have an impact on the skills shortage, and when taking into consideration travel costs, it can be even less appealing to the younger generation.

Emma Wright, Graduate and Apprenticeship Manager at the Berkeley Group, agreed with Tanja and stated Berkeley will have 1,500 Trainees across their sites by May 2018. She believes that one of the main issues is the public being unaware of the different opportunities within housebuilding – it’s not just hard hats and muddy boots!

Dr Neil Bentley, CEO at Worldskills, and Ashley Terron, Site Project Manager at Redrow, were also on the Apprenticeship Panel. Ashley recalled how he entered the industry, noting the lack of awareness through education and the media of the breadth of career options available in the sector. In fact, Worldskills (a partnership between business, education and the Government that accelerates young people’s careers) stopped him from giving up on his apprenticeship and he went on to win gold for Bricklaying… look at him now.

Moving onto the training debate the following question was asked…

Whether it’s developing new skills or enhancing existing ones, what organisations are leading the way in the provision of construction-related training?

Jenny Hardman, Director for Homebuilding Skills Partnership, kick started the debate stating that for every 10,000 traditional houses built, at least 2,500 brick layers are needed. The panel then discussed that in order to address the skills deficit and realise the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes built annually, companies need to work together to help solve the shortage. Moreover, identifying specific functions that are holding the industry back and standardising education and training programmes to aid the throughflow of qualified young people.

Alison Cotgrave, Associate Dean at Faculty of Engineering and Technology at the Liverpool John Moores University, acknowledged the need for our industry to go into schools and colleges and make children aware of their opportunities at an early stage. Transparency is key; highlight the negatives as well as the positives across all different roles – the latter outweighing the former.

The event moved on to the Diversity debate which included the following panel:

Kathryn Sewell, Head of HR at Kier Living

Isla MacFarlane, Editor at Showhouse News

Andy George, Head of Talent at Barratt Homes

Barry Cullen, Diversity & Inclusion Director at RICS

Kelly Hector, Head of HR at Churchill

They discussed the longstanding misconception of construction being ‘old fashioned’, the trades being a dead-end career and the only path to a good profession is with a university degree.

Gender diversity was a large part of this piece, particularly, if attractive jobs are advertised in the right way, with the right salary and locations… anyone, including women, will apply. It doesn’t take an advert of a smiling lady in a hard hat to attract women!!

Improving diversity goes back to the previous debates and how we need to attract and retain young people as the future leaders, open career paths and provide ladders of opportunity. This needs to be centralised around media plans to showcase positive images of the housebuilding industry to fix the reputation.

We need the industry influencers and leaders to bring about a cultural change in attitude to diversity, fairness, and respect within the workplace.

Leaderships debate included:

Stewart Baseley – Executive Chairman, HBF | Rachel Roxburgh – CEO Dallaglio RugbyWorks | Nicola Barclay – Chief Executive  Homes for Scotland | Karen Jones – HR Director, Redrow | John Anderson – Executive Director, Kier Living UK | Helen Moore – Managing Director, City & Country


how can you help solve the construction industry skills shortage?


> Start spreading the knowledge of the different roles available in housebuilding to the younger generation.

> Portray the advantages of working within the industry through all forms of marketing.

> Introduce cross-sector recruitment and hire people with transferable skills.

> Spend time speaking at schools making children aware of the industry at a younger age.

> Work closely with schools, educate teachers and attend career fairs.

> Even though work experience placements are seen too dangerous for people to work on – what other ways can you provide children with the experience? Redrow discussed how they corner off a section of a site and set up brick laying stations, mosaic etc. Give them a chance to experience the industry.

> Direct your marketing to where the ideal targeted audience are, keep up with the generation trends and promote the industry and jobs within media platforms like youtube, where you can also use social influencers.