A building block in the answer to construction industry’s skills shortage

Saul Humphrey, New Anglia LEP's building growth chairman (right) with Karen Knight, of NorseCare in

Saul Humphrey, New Anglia LEP's building growth chairman (right) with Karen Knight, of NorseCare in one of the apartments at the Bowthorpe Care Village. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Home builders across the region have welcomed a new multi-million pound scheme to end the construction industry's skills shortage – but warned there is no quick fix.

Sector leaders say the launch of the Home Building Skills Partnership can only be part of the solution, as it could take years to see the benefit in an industry also facing the departure of foreign workers worried about post-Brexit futures.

The new scheme, launched last week by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), based at Bircham Newton in West Norfolk, and the Home Builders Federation (HBF), aims to plug the skills gap which has dogged the industry since the financial crisis, driving up labour costs.

Demand for housing has also increased, with New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) figures showing there was a 7,000 shortfall in new homes in Norfolk and Suffolk last year.

The initiative will see £3.8m invested over the next four years to train new and experienced home building workers with a further £1m going towards graduate schemes for non-trade roles, such as marketing, within the industry. It will also focus on attracting new blood into the sector.

Saul Humphrey, chair of building growth at the LEP, said it was 'fantastic' the initiative had been launched but highlighted the importance of changing the view of the industry.

'We have a significant challenge to overcome to get young people into the industry,' he said, pointing to figures which showed women make up just 1% of the workforce.

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He also stressed the need to reach children and careers advisers in schools.

'You do hear that a lot of people take up courses but the completion rates are not fantastic. One thing which is really missing is work experience to get them ready for a building site – because it is a very different environment to the classroom.'

But the skills shortage is just one challenge facing the industry.

Paul LeGrice, managing director of Watton-based Abel Homes, said the initiative was good news but warned it would not be a quick fix.

He said: 'If people think because of this scheme there are suddenly going to be more houses overnight they are wrong.

'There also needs to be the planning policy and all the other factors, in place.'

Mr LeGrice said there was a particular shortage of bricklayers, but the industry was waiting to see how many foreign workers returned home following the EU referendum result and the fall in the value of sterling.

'No one knows what effect the referendum is going to have in terms of labour. The gut feeling is it could have quite a large impact,' said Mr LeGrice.

Persimmon Homes human resources manager Julian Holmes, who worked on the scheme on a national level, said the courses would be based around what the industry needed to be taught.

He said: 'We are making sure we can put together qualifications that are very relevant and able to support workforce development across the industry.'