This isn’t something that is going to be a quick and easy fix! As I see it there are a couple of reasons for the current shortage. One of those was created in the1980’s and the second one in the 1990’s.Going back to the 1950’s, when I was a lad, my Grandad got it hammered firmly into my head that there was “no higher calling for a man than to serve his time at a skilled trade”. In that era kids at school were taught the 3R’s and made to learn what they were being taught. That seemed to change at the swap-over time from O-Levels to GCSE’s, the 1980’s, when the kids started to get told ”What you think is important”. The result of this I saw in the 1990’s when the drop-out rate on a Law degree was 30% in the first year! These youngsters thought their own opinions were more important than those of the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords.
The next thing, the 1990’s one, became obvious speaking with French, German, Spanish and other nationalities of students. It used to be that only 2½% of British school leavers went on to University, and then only for “serious subjects”. Suddenly that percentage was shot up to 50%! The reasoning behind it? To keep unemployment figures down the same as other countries had already done!
So what all that amounts to is that the skilled labour shortage is down to the educational system we now have in the U.K. coupled with a changed cultural attitude towards getting hands dirty during a day’s work.The irony here is that many of the graduates end up with a £40,000 debt for their student days and can only get a job stacking supermarket shelves!
Another reason for skilled labour shortages is the cyclical nature of construction. It is “first to suffer and last to recover” in very recession – and they crop up every 10 years! Nobody wants to be in and out of work like a yoyo!
Anyhow, how do we overcome this shortage of skilled labour? The first answer is to use migrant labour. This is what we are seeing currently in the U.K. with tradesmen from many European countries coming to work here on a temporary basis. There is a down-side to this, even as a temporary measure; they work cheap! That doesn’t encourage youngsters into the building game. The cost the migrant workers don’t incur is the U.K’s. high housing costs. They are in temporary accommodation, often more than one to a room. Myself, I used to have even cheaper accommodation; slept in the back of my van!
The second, long term answer is to somehow get back to encouraging youngsters to serve their time at skilled trades again. Forget the Chancellor’s con of the “service sector”; get back to the “if you make nothing, you’ve nothing to sell!” wisdom! Let us all take pride again in what we build or manufacture.
Coupled with that is a change back to yesteryear with educational policies. Emphasise the 3R’s to kids and get back to only “serious subjects” at Universities. The Lecturers needn’t be put out of work; they can move into teaching day release students and evening classes! Nearly all of today’s Universities used to be Polytechnic Institutes doing that anyway!
So there you go! I’ve identified the cause of the shortage of skilled labour in construction. I’ve come up with short- and long-term solutions to the problem and, at that point, I’m out of my depth! I can’t tell you how to implement those solutions without economic and political turmoil. I suspect we might be getting to that stage anyway! For now we can just be thankful that the skill levels of so many migrant Eastern European tradesmen are as high as they are.