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The capability gap

The Construction Industry Summit this week flagged up skills shortages again, but I worry that the focus is too short-term and addresses today’s skills, not what we need in the future.

The skills we need are those that will allow us to transform the industry and deliver on the targets in the industrial strategy Construction 2025 – which Constructing Excellence has at the centre of our vision. Within a decade surely we must also be aiming for zero accidents, or at least zero fatalities, zero waste to landfill, zero defects, 95%+ client satisfaction, 95%+ predictability on time on budget. And no doubt a few other things which will combine to make us excellent.

Construction 2025 targets

To achieve this transformation the sector will require a very different skills mix to that currently available. What is that mix, and how will we get there within 10 years?

For a start, which are the key sectors where we need to excel by 2025? We know from the current desperate state of parts of our infrastructure systems and the forward pipeline, where already visible, that we will need to be excellent at delivering in energy  (eg nuclear, renewables), transport (including high-speed rail and airports), water, and at the other end of the scale, domestic refurbishment and retrofit, particularly in support of low carbon which by then will need to have extremely cost-effective programmes upgrading many tens of thousands of properties each year. Before then we also need a lot of school places. (You have to laugh – when a chronic shortage of primary school places was evident 2-3 years back due to a baby boom, was I the only person who thought that there might just possibly be a shortage of secondary school places in, oh, say another 6-7 years’ time?).

Other things we know about 2025 include:

  • Its only ten years away. From entering secondary education to graduating from university or completing an Apprenticeship takes ten years.
  • Over 80% of the 2025 workforce are already in work.
  • We know some of the demographics of new entrants to the workforce in 2025 – they are already at primary school!
  • The ‘minecraft generation’ will be joining our industry, or be in their early career. Will we be ready for them, providing an industry with the ‘noble cause’ (as Paul Morrell termed it) of delivering quality of life for the world’s population and saving the planet?
  • The current Generation for Change of young/early career people already in the industry will be in positions of senior project and corporate leadership.

What we don’t know about 2025 includes:

  • the impact of yet-to-be identified radical innovations in the wider industry, for example in ICT, big data/open data, new materials including graphene.
  • The impact of globalisation, and other macro-economic trends – eg how many economic recessions can e expect between now and then, and how deep could they be?
  • Which sectors or parts of the economy in the UK or overseas will be our major competition in the ‘race for talent’, able to offer more attractive careers or employment terms to young people?
  • Whether we can change our sector’s reputation fast enough to influence our image. At least there are lots more positive TV programmes these days (across many more channels!), eg have you seen the Ten Billion Dollar Railway (brilliant), Ideal Home/Homes Under the Hammer, Regeneration Man etc.

A Burning Platform for Construction

Collaborative working, digital, lean, respect for people, innovation, ethical and social responsibility, are just some of the critical capabilities which the sector needs to be developing NOW. This is a rich mix of skills, knowledge and behaviours covering leadership, management, technical and technological. We need quickly to learn how to learn, learn how to collaborate better at all levels, and learn a culture of mutual respect and recognition. We need to get started – there’s only ten years to go.