Comment – Failure to grasp skills nettle…

Why is so little being done to address the industry-wide skills gap?

Redundancies and company closures were the most obvious symptoms of the recession that held the UK demolition industry in its grip for five years or more. But while these symptoms have largely eased, a less obvious but no-less-pernicious malady continues to ail the sector, hindering its recovery and threatening its long-term viability.

Throughout the recession, the wider industry took on less new staff and trained less frequently than was, perhaps, appropriate. Now, with workloads on the increase, the industry finds itself with a shortage of suitably trained and experienced staff.

Although it is easy to blame the Pacific-drift slowness of the economic recovery on the UK government, the same cannot be said of the skills shortage. At present, the UK government is actively supporting more than 700 initiatives designed to bring workers into employment in order to support the slow but steady economic recovery. The same cannot be said of the demolition industry which seems determined to address an industry-wide problem with a series of disjointed, individual company solutions.

Last week, I attended a “Skills for Profit” conference organised by the Construction Equipment Association (CEA). In attendance were representatives of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Royal Academy of Engineering, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills together with the likes of JCB and Caterpillar. Together, they presented a united front with a single focus – To overcome the skills shortage with a targeted series of training and recruitment initiatives.

And where was the demolition industry in all of this? Sadly, the industry was AWOL, Missing in Action, presumably tending to something far more important than a worsening skills gap that could ultimately cripple it.

All of which raises a series of questions: Is the demolition sector somehow immune to a skills shortage that is impacting every other aspect of the construction sector? Is the industry’s training regime so beyond reproach that it need not sully itself with such trivial matters? Is the sector capable of bridging the skills gap in splendid isolation? By failing to engage with a wider initiative to address the skills shortage, are the industry’s trade bodies guilty of a dereliction of duty?

Whatever the answer to these questions, one thing is certain. The UK demolition industry’s ability to meet the demands of a construction sector rejuvenated by an upturn in its fortunes will hinge upon its ability to attract sufficient people with the requisite skills and experience. A failure to do so will undermine any ongoing recovery and could, ultimately, leave the entire sector in the recovery slow lane.