Imagine that you are a football manager in charge of a team that sits in 20th place in the Premier League (as a West Ham, this requires very little imagination). Your strike partnership has amassed just two goals in the past seven games; your midfield appear to be playing for the opposition; and your defence is seemingly made entirely from Swiss cheese and it leaks like a colander. You are staring into the abyss of relegation as a club; your job is on the line when the chairman tells you that you are to host a press conference.
During that press conference, and despite the fact that your strikers apparently could not find the goal even with GPS, you inform the assembled huddle of journalists that all will be well because, henceforth, your team is going to score three goals per game.
So earlier this week, the Construction Industry Training Board – the football manager of the industry’s recruitment and upskilling funnel – released a statement to say that the UK construction industry would require approximately 44,980 new workers each year for the next four years to meet industry workload demands between now and 2027.
That would be the same UK construction industry that has had a skills shortage for as long as anyone can remember. The same UK construction industry that has failed consistently to engage with young people to any meaningful degree. And that would be the same CITB that attempted to sell off its own crown jewels whilst presiding over the sale of a card scheme that was handled so badly that the parties involved were forced to issue an apology.
Setting aside why the CITB is using levy payers monies to produce a report – probably at considerable cost – to tell the industry that which it already know – more work means more people and we don’t have enough people – just how much brass neck does it take to issue a statement like that? It is like the head of the Metropolitan Police issuing guidance on women’s rights in the immediate aftermath of the David Carrick investigation.
On the plus side, the CITB statement suggests that the recession the industry is currently facing will be short-lived and shallow. On the downside, however, the statement offers no insight into how the skills shortfall is to be addressed aside from CITB Chief Executive Tim Balcon’s insightful: “recruiting and developing the workforce remains vital to ensure the industry can contribute to economic growth.” That is surely just the same as telling those two underperforming football strikers: “The goal is over there. Yes, that thing with the net”.
Will we ever see a day when the industry adopts a national strategy for recruitment, training and upskilling? The Australian government, an organisation that is quite a bit bigger than the CITB, regularly identifies gaps in its skill base (plumbers, hairdressers, carpenters) and reaches out to overseas countries to help fill those gaps. Charity organisations can rally hordes of volunteers to meet peaks in demand; and fruit farmers can assemble pickers to harvest their produce at just the right time. Faced with the same shortfall, the construction industry stares at its boots, whistles quietly and hopes that someone will make the whole sorry mess just go away.
As an industry, we know that we need more young people. We need a national programme to help local and regional construction and demolition companies reach out to local and regional schools, colleges and universities. We need more action and fewer reports; and we need to speak to young people not via press releases and white papers but on their level, in their language and where they gather, even if that means spending less time pontificating on LinkedIn and more time getting “down with the kids” on TikTok.
As the great philosopher Elvis Presley once said: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”.