The paradox at the heart of construction’s skills shortage, at a time when we are facing severe labour shortages, when legal definitions of competence are being enshrined in law, we are training people we will never employ and employing people we don’t train.

In the context of the finishes and interiors sector, there’s around 184,000 construction workers employed from labourers to senior managers. To maintain this ‘healthy level’ around 5,000 new recruits are needed each year to 2025. According to FIS data, around 40% of our pre-pandemic workforce were migrant EU workers and we relied on around 2,000 new migrants to hit that 5,000 annual recruitment target. Based on Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates, as well as the 2,000 not available due to new migration rules, around 10,000 workers are no longer available. To get back to ‘healthy levels’, recruitment of indigenous workers needs to rise by around 400% this year (and we need to have trained them by yesterday)! This would have been tough pre-COVID, but hospitality, agriculture, haulage, manufacturing and healthcare are all short of bodies and fishing in the same pond.

Against this backdrop, around 40,000 people in the UK right now are studying construction courses. Most of these (estimates range between 60 and 80%) will drift away when they finish their courses, never even visiting a construction site.

Colleges are businesses – they want to keep these people in training, and against this backdrop too many seem to be slipping through our fingers. This is where the STEM Ambassadors scheme comes in.

Re-instilling pride in our trades

Most of the existing workforce are not plucked from college but trained informally on the job and have been assessed for a vocational qualification (if pressed). I am not knocking the time-honoured tradition of learning on the job, but…how does an employer, against a backdrop of severe shortages, punitive delays and accelerated programmes, spare bodies to show someone else how to do it? FIS advocates training the more mature operatives as coaches and mentors as part of your organisation’s succession plan and are working to secure funding support for employers.

In the January issue of SpecFinish there are some tips to help refocus recruitment and some inspiring apprentice stories from WorldSkills. We have to start there, doubling down on what we are doing to reach into our local communities and mine the potential, but we all need to get involved.

A highlight of 2021 (yes, despite it all, there were some!) we relaunched our FIS Approved Training Provider Network looking to draw a group of like-minded people who share our values to fix that disconnect between education and industry. We have an expanding group of experts working with us now, some employers setting up their own schools, some colleges and some private enterprises, all committed to collaborating to raise standards and deliver people to our sector. Part of this is about consistency of experience and FIS have facilitated the development of syllabuses and materials to support a more consistent journey.

The important point is that the cultural shift isn’t just about what we do to recruit, but the process after recruitment, delivering a consistent and quality experience that reduces waste and doesn’t end when you get the card, but carries on beyond, re-instilling pride in our trades. Led by the FIS Skills Board, this year we will be working more closely than ever with the Department for Education, CITB and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to fix disconnect between education and industry and ensure our apprenticeships are fit for purpose and well supported. FIS is supporting a traineeship in drylining and monitoring T-Level qualifications to identify how to support work and industrial placements, ensuring more of a focus on employment for students.

The backdrop is complex, but our goal is simple, to ensure that the supply chain, funders, trainers and employers are working better together and, ultimately, we are employing more of the people we are training and training more of the people we are employing.

Iain McIlwee
FIS Chief Executive