Why more needs to be done to support qualified skills people and ensure they’re embarking on a solid career path within our industry.

The skills gap in the UK construction industry is well documented and it is estimated that there will still be a shortage of more than 168,500 workers across all disciplines in the next five years. Many programmes and initiatives are geared at attracting more young people to our industry but how do we ensure they are employed in the right roles and then retain them?

David Hall, Training Partnerships Director at British Gypsum, believes ‘up-skilling’ is the solution. David is continually analysing and evaluating the success and merits of existing training courses and identifying new ways in which we can promote the industry as an aspirational career choice to young people.

“Whilst undoubtedly, a large proportion of the work that needs to be done is centred around engaging with young people at the start of their career decision-making process, it is also evident
that more needs to be done to support those who have recently achieved their plastering diploma to continue to ‘up-skill’ and to find employment,” he said.

“A quick look at college graduation numbers shows that we do actually have a wealth of students at colleges who complete their diploma qualifi cation in their respective construction trades but many are being let down by the lack of a structured route into employment once their course has completed.

Of the 60 colleges British Gypsum works with in the Thistle Partnership, we have supported 3,500 students to achieve their plastering diploma during the 2018-19 academic year alone, yet only 900 of these students were apprentices, which has left 2,600 plastering diploma students with whom we can provide no evidence that they enter the construction industry at all.

“The industry also needs to look more closely at improving the skills of existing workers and apprentices if we are to effectively address the skills gap. Investing in ‘up-skilling’ training so that
individuals with basic skills can become more competent in a wider variety of tasks will go a long way to help organisations create the qualified and experienced workforce needed.”

Earlier this year British Gypsum embarked on a pilot training scheme where 25 individuals, a combination of diploma plastering students from the Thistle Partnership colleges and those already
employed in the construction industry but looking to improve their skill set, were given a six-week bursary and a free residential training course at the company’s training academies in Cumbria,
Leicestershire and Kent.

Designed to help individuals improve existing trowel skills and give them the ability to skim competently, practical training included straight flat wall application, finishing internal angles,
bulkhead to ceiling application, working on large wall areas along with many other topics. Course attendees were also given training on business skills and what they need to do to become self-employed, labour only, subcontractors. “By the end of the six-weeks it was evident that the pilot scheme was a real success and had helped to boost skills and abilities of all of those enrolled on the course,” said David. “The feedback received from individuals and employers has been brilliant.

All students highlighted how it has enabled them to improve their skill, speed and efficiency at skimming, giving them greater confidence to enter the industry as skilled tradespeople.”

As well as providing skills training, the course aims to provide attendees with help finding employment. “We are thrilled to say that all 25 individuals that attended the pilot are all now plying their trade as plasterers in the construction industry as a result,” said David. “For those employers who had sent existing members of staff on the course, they also agreed that their employee’s confidence and ability had improved massively on completion of the course and that the ‘up-skilling’ has resolved many of the previous skills gaps they encountered. As a result, productivity
had also increased, along with employee morale and job satisfaction.

Reinventing the system: The rise of the academy
To drive change we are now seeing industry working in partnership with training providers to develop academies.

One company set upon this route is Measom Drylining. Managing Director Andrew Measom believes we should be doing more to show that progressive career opportunities are possible. His
company has teamed up with Havering College to open the first Drylining Centre of Excellence at its Rainham Campus, which delivers taster courses in drylining and beginner drylining courses.
Andrew said: “This partnership is the culmination of about 20 years’ worth of work to get something off the ground in the drylining industry. The reality is we need to emphasise to people that there is a career path in this industry. It’s an equivalent of plastering, people just don’t know about it.”

Organisations like Havering are going to be at the forefront of the next stage of development in the drylining industry, he said. “The current system is failing and we need to drive through a change.
This is the start of it.”

Horbury Group’s apprenticeship scheme, the Horbury Academy, recruits around 20 trade apprentices and 10 technical, professional and management apprentices each year, and is a partnership with The Sheffield College.

Recognised qualifications are NVQ level 2 for tradespeople and level 3 to 6 for technical, professional and management. Horbury Group says it is committed to developing young men and women into skilled tradespeople, technicians, professionals and managers because it will ensure the sustainability of its long-term business. It aims to bring in 250 qualified staff to the business over the next 10 years.

Last year Cameron Drywall also began working with West Lothian College and the CITB to initiate a Drylining Apprenticeship at the Livingston based college. The courses last 18 months, with
apprentices attending college once a week, completing an SVQ Level 2 in Interior Systems Drylining. The rest of their time is spent on site, working with experienced dryliners to hone their
practical skills.

Suppliers like Voestalpine Metsec plc are leading by example, with the business aiming to have a staggering 20% of its workforces made up of apprentices by 2020. Apprentices get involved in all areas of the business including IT, tool making, structural design, sales, maintenance, project engineering, profile manipulation, custom roll forming, quality and more with two-year apprenticeship courses providing Level 3 CITB Digital Technician (NVQ) and Level 3 BTEC in construction and the built environment.

For advice on taking on an apprentice or upskilling your workforce, download guidance from www.thefis.org, contact the FIS on skills@thefis.org or phone 0121 707 0077.

British Gypsum is running its Site Ready Skimming Course nationwide in 2020, partnering with training providers across the country to increase the numbers of skimming plasterers coming into the construction industry. For details visit www.britishgypsum.com/technicaladvice/training/aboutourcourses/fullrangeofcourses/sitereadyskimmingcourses