The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


Construction skills shortage conference debates the future of the industry post-Brexit

25 October 2017

On 5 October 2017, the School of Construction and Project Management - in collaboration with History & Policy - hosted a national conference on the shortage of skilled workers in construction.

Panel discussion at Skills Shortage in Construction conference

Welcoming speakers from across the construction and engineering industry, trade unions, government and academia, the Skills Shortage in Construction conference tackled the current skills crisis in the construction industry within the context of government approaches to housing and the EU referendum result.

Skills shortage in historical context

Developed with conference partners History & Policy, a national network promoting better public policy informed by a greater understanding of history, the conference aimed to place the skills shortage in the context of historical approaches to labour, training and supply chain management. The first panel included presentations comparing the post WWII development of construction training in Britain and Germany, the role of immigrant labour in major 19th century civil engineering projects and the comparative sophistication of supply chains for London infrastructure pre-19th century.

Training and skills after Brexit

In light of the UK government’s industrial strategy, the second panel discussed the requirements of the UK construction industry for professional engineers and technicians, and the shortfall of skills training and apprenticeships to attract young talent into construction. Unite the union research highlights the industry's duty of care to workers in times of job uncertainty and low pay, with suicide rates among low skilled male labourers at three times higher than the national male average.

The state and the construction industry

The day’s third panel considered the role of the construction industry in addressing the skills shortage alongside the responsibilities of the state, with barriers to delivering employment and skills on public sector projects a significant issue. While difficulty recruiting young people to the industry may be considered a symptom of an underlying image problem, the panel argued that the industry must take more ownership of funding and providing training to overcome the skills crisis.

Technological change

Concluding the conference by looking ahead to the impacts of technological change, and how these will impact professional roles in construction, the final panel considered the industry in the context of an increasingly digitalised global market. Wider use of technologies such as building information modelling (BIM) is likely to change the nature of professional skills and standards, with digitisation and open source platforms transforming the way buildings are designed and supply chains managed.

Dr Kumar Aniket, Research Associate in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment, says:

“The construction sector has a unique role in society, and plays a critical part in responding to the challenges the society at large faces. With the once-in-a-generation transformational changes afoot in the UK, the construction sector finds itself at a critical juncture faced with a range of formidable challenges. The aim of this conference has been to find areas where a proactive policy can ensure that the UK’s construction sector can robustly respond to challenges and achieve its full potential.”

Press coverage of the conference includes articles by CPM PhD candidate Tehreem Husain featured in the Huffington Post and Pakistan’s leading English language daily newspaper The Express Tribune, with the union perspective on challenging conditions faced by workers outlined in trade union paper Morning Star. Read a Storify roundup of the skills shortage debate on Twitter.

To find out more about History & Policy and how historical perspectives can inform today’s policy issues, visit the History & Policy website.

Read press coverage of the conference:

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