Ongoing developments in the world of work are evolving the skills needed at work and placing an onus on lifelong learning, but are businesses doing enough to upskill their workers and to ensure their effective development and skills utilisation? This paper looks to understand and address these issues through the lens of a particular industry: construction.
Many commentators have spoken of a new industrial revolution. It is easy to see early shoots of this emerging in construction, particularly in relation to digital technologies. Building Information Modelling has the potential to act as the cornerstone for digital information to facilitate optimal performance over the life-cycle of a building. Equipment such as drones, autonomous vehicles, 3D printers and robotic bricklaying machines, a similarly wide range of new materials, more extensive use of off-site construction and technology such as embedded sensors are already available but their more extensive and integrated use has the potential to transform the industry. Such a transformation offers the opportunity for a radical improvement in levels of productivity and profitability within the UK industry and for it to acquire global leadership in a market that is expected to triple in the long term up to 2030 and beyond.
At the same time the current performance, organisation and practices of the industry are likely to inhibit change. It is highly cyclical and profit margins and levels of investment, both in equipment and people, are comparatively low. The industry is highly fragmented, with a very large proportion of the workforce accounted for by micro businesses, sole traders and the self-employed. Relationships with clients and along the extended supply chains are typically adversarial.
The industry struggles to recruit and train sufficient young people, experiences difficulties filling the vacancies already available and skill gaps amongst the existing workforce are a further problem. The workforce is ageing and this is likely to be exacerbated by Brexit, particularly in London. In addition, there are questions about the quality of management and leadership within the sector and how sufficiently it invests in and makes full use of its workers’ talents. Working practices associated with high performance are relatively rare, as is engagement with lean approaches to maximising efficiency. Surveys show that only 4% of construction businesses adopt the full blend of high performance management practices known to be associated with creating a competent and motivated workforce to deliver high levels of personal and business performance. Furthermore, little more than half of construction employers provide training to their workforce, which is below national levels. Even then, most of this training seeks to cover statutory minimum requirements for health and safety and/or induction.
The report considers what sorts of actions are necessary to achieve positive transformational change in future and unlock the potential of new technological advances and innovations in ways of working. Realising the better prospects for the industry will require strategic leadership that engages the whole of the industry and similarly coherent support from Government. The Industrial Strategy and delivery of a Sector Deal provides a vital mechanism to put this leadership in place, but progress will require long term commitment.
Major workforce and skills priorities to tackle moving forward include:
- developing leadership and management skills and behaviours appropriate for a high performing, collaborative and digitally-enabled industry;
- attracting more, and a wider range of, young people into the industry and ensuring they develop the skills required; and
- continually developing the skills of the existing workforce, having appropriate incentives and provision to engage the smallest businesses and self-employed, and creating industry-wide arrangements for recognising bite-size learning achievement.
Constructing the future
Lesley Giles and Nigel Hudson, Work Advance
David Shoesmith, Work Foundation
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