Experienced builder, Tim Mullock and developer of the Kiistone app, gives his views on the skills crisis and what the industry needs to do to solve it.
There is no doubt that we are experiencing a critical shortage of skilled labour and when you consider that, even when the industry is currently booming, there is a perception that jobs in construction are insecure it does raise the question as to the root cause.
I strongly believe that the answer lies in how tradespeople are perceived in society today. Programmes such as the BBC’s Rogue Traders have rightfully highlighted that there is a percentage of tradespeople that over-charge and under-deliver – leaving a trail of heartache in their wake. However, during these times of plenty, good tradespeople are in higher demand, leading to longer waiting times. In our modern world, where buying and selling happens at the touch of a button, the impatience of customers leaves the door open to less skilled trades trying to do more or fraudsters scamming the public. The effects of this have led to a pandemic of mistrust between customers and tradespeople.
When you combine this perception with the long-established view that an academic career is more prized than a vocational one what is supposed to motivate the next generation of youngsters to join our industry?
I spoke recently with a College Principal who explained to me her struggle to motivate often disillusioned staff into reinvigorating stale construction courses attended only by the ‘less capable’ students. Even when a youngster graduates it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can gain greater experience joining an established tradesperson to hone their skills. It is debatable if there is enough incentive anymore for employers to want to give their time and energy to training apprentices and if they are even aware of government schemes such as Kickstart to help fund them.
When you look at it like that then who wants to strive for a career that society rates as ‘second best’? It doesn’t have to be this way.
I was lucky enough to receive a higher education, gaining a good degree from a top university. However, by the time I’d finished my course I’d lost all sense of direction and found great solace in a hands-on career in the trade as a tiler. The short-term gains of physically delivering customer satisfaction with a job well done and immediate payment meant that I felt self-sufficient and motivated for the first time in months. I strongly believe that highlighting these short- and long-term goals to school and college students will help inspire the next generation of construction workers.
A young person, possibly from an under-privileged background will either feel determined to improve their situation or accept the limitations of the world they live in. Short term impacts of choosing a vocational career could have a profound effect on their self-belief and happiness. A young decorator, for example, after gaining confidence in the classroom could choose to decorate their own home – improving their living situation and gaining satisfaction not just for themselves but from the people they live with.
Trade skills can be transferred anywhere around the world. What would the opportunity to dig wells or build temporary accommodation in a developing country have on the aspirations of a youngster that has never been abroad?
When they look up in their towns and cities at the giant glazed skyscrapers and office blocks – why shouldn’t they ask questions like, “Who had the nerve and skill to put that glass in at the top?” And if money is their driver, then there are ample examples of millionaire ‘rags to riches’ stories throughout the trade sector.
Role models are the sculptors that shape any young person’s life and aspirations. Through their insights young people need to see and believe in these routes to success in their school years. The pathways must be clear and signposted with further opportunities as they progress. If an uninspired student leaves education to become a labourer because school ‘wasn’t for them’ should that be the end of their academic journey? Certainly not! If they gain the self-satisfaction that they need to be self-fulfilled in that role then great, but what if they have new role models on site such as architects, skilled trades and business owners to suddenly look up to. A new long-term goal emerges that can only be capitalised on with a route back into training and education.
We must cement the notion that a successful career in construction can take you anywhere, but the key to that success is time. You cannot gain the necessary skills and experience to excel at the highest levels of our industry without a commitment to long term learning and a rounding of your education. Even a sole trader has to be aware of business practices. If you can’t do basic accountancy, manage materials and communicate with customers you will fail.
Immediate financial success is only limited to your perception. Even an apprentice will gain enough money to buy a pint, a designer t-shirt and avoid the debts of higher education. Enjoy these gains and put the Ferrari on hold for a few years. Only on hold, because they should know that with hard work and diligence that luxury prize isn’t impossible.
A lack of any resource increases demand and raises the value of what is available. Therefore, the opportunity to become a skilled tradesperson or construction worker should be fashioned in the public eye to be as desirable as any other profession and, given parity in the halls of education. Until this happens, I can’t see the numbers and quality of youngsters’ performance increasing to the levels required anytime soon. Leaving the current crop to surmise “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”.
Tim Mullock is the owner of Chorley-based Lancashire Luxury Developments and the developer of the Kiistone App www.kiistone.co.uk