The UK is facing a housing shortage – something not lost on Government, which has recently unveiled funding packages worth billions to housebuilders, as it pursues an increasingly ambitious target of building one million new homes by 2020.
It’s challenges in delivering against this target are multiple. Planning red-tape and availability of sites are by default, contributing factors. But the most acute problem is people and more specifically the availability of skilled workers.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (2012) suggests that in order to meet the 250,000 homes target, 434,000 new recruits will be needed between 2010 and 2020 just to replace the retiring workforce.
It is not encouraging then, that according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS), the 2015/16 academic year saw only 24,850 students enrolled into construction related apprenticeships.
All of this is of course before Brexit. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests around 10 per cent of the UK construction sector’s workforce are foreign-born.
Although still an unknown quantity Brexit could be expected to lead to far stricter controls on the movement of labour into the UK and with it, the loss of a skilled, if a migrant workforce. The evidence is clear – a squeeze on the labour market risks turning a skills shortage into a crisis.
In shining a light on the UK’s skills deficit in construction and more widely, current pressures on skills and productivity, have also highlighted the importance of modern apprenticeships in delivering a solution.
Tina Robinson, HR Manager, Emplas, explains:. “There are lots of young people out there who simply haven’t had exposure to work because they haven’t had the opportunity.
“We’re fortunate enough to have a very progressive board of directors, who recognize the value that apprenticeships can deliver and the contribution that those who participate in them can bring to our business.”
According to Government figures 625,000 16-24 year-olds were registered as unemployed at the end of last year.
Emplas recruited nine apprentices in 2016 and is currently in the process of appointing a 10th as it builds its trade customer service and support offer and the skills set within its own retail business, T&K Home Improvements. This includes customer service, IT and Marketing roles as well as fitting and installation specialists.
“It’s not necessarily all about meeting demand now but getting ready to meet future demand as we move forward, making sure that our growth is sustainable by bringing the right people into the business now and developing them for the future”, says Tina.
This medium but also longer term focus forms a key element within Emplas’ strategy. With a board of directors, for the most part in its 30s and 40s, it has a far longer term focus as Ryan Johnson, Emplas’ Managing Director explains.
“We’re very much looking at the long term”, he says “that’s not just five or even 10 years down the line but far further down the road.
“This is a key differential for us as a business. Given where we as a board are in our own careers, we’re not just trying to capitalise on short-term returns but build for sustained and long term growth alongside that of our customers.
“That means investing in our product offering, machinery and operation but also our people. We have a great team, some of whom will be with us for the whole of that journey, others who are perhaps a few years off retirement.
“We need to make sure that as experience moves through and out of the business, its shared and replaced with and by, those coming into it.”
The construction industry as a whole doesn’t have a particularly great track record in this long-term planning – the current skills shortage is in part attributable to a failure to retain talent during the Credit Crunch.
This means that it now employs 324,000 fewer workers than it did in 2008, before the financial crisis and recession led to a slump in housebuilding and other construction projects, prompting companies to slash their workforces.
“The industry as a whole, has perhaps underestimated just how long it takes to recruit, train and develop real talent”, continues Tina. “We have identified some very strong individuals and put in place the partnerships to support us in developing them and ultimately delivering a better service to the customer.”
This is reflected in the focus of the NVQ programmes currently being undertaken by its apprentices. Delivered in partnership with three different training providers, Evolve, Intec, and Moulton College, all share a combination of on-the-job learning, mentorship, one-to-one training, day release and assessment.
“It’s very important that the courses are built around business need but also the interests of the individuals undertaking them, so that learning is enjoyable”, continues Tina. “Our apprentices go through a series of core modules which equip them with the skills we need them to have but this is also balanced with wider opportunities for learning.”
Dan Taylor, IT Apprentice:
“Working at Emplas is really my first experience of working within a business”, says Dan. “Before joining the apprenticeship scheme I’d completed a BTEC diploma in IT at college, which I’m now building on through the NVQ. But the exposure to the running and operation of a business is as much a part of what I’m doing as the IT – the exposure is incredibly broad.”
Dan joined the Emplas IT apprenticeship in April 2016 and will complete his NVQ Level 3 diploma with Emplas and training provider Intec, in April 2016. This includes a series of assessments by Intec examiners against compulsory modules including IT security and office and production systems, plus own-modules.
“The course is interesting. There are things which you have to do and other modules that you can select where you have a particular interest.
“It reflects the diversity in what we do. We work across lots of different areas on a day-to-day basis. It can be about spreadsheets and office functions to supporting production, through Emplas bar-coding system, order tracking. There are lots of different touch points across the business on a daily basis.”
Tom Chantrell, Sales and Marketing Apprentice:
As one of two Sales and Marketing apprentices to join Emplas’ G-Award winning marketing department in 2016, Tom is taking a growing role within the team.
This includes day-to-day exposure to Emplas’ customer support programme, alongside specific courses on business administration.
Tom says: “It’s been a really good mix of on the job training covering everything from customer lead generation work, photography, graphic design and flyer and brochure development to specific modules on data management, communication, report writing to software tools.”
Tom also sits within a team supporting EVA the Emplas Virtual Assistant launched by Emplas in March 2015. It’s formed around a simple dashboard, which provides access to suite of sales and support tools.
These include options for a ‘New Website’, Quotation Software, e-marketing, call tracking, ‘My Personal Assistant’, ‘Which’, SEO, T&Cs and DGCOS membership. Each lead generation and support activity is underwritten by examples of what the activity has delivered for T&K – Emplas own retail business.
He continues: “Working alongside, graphic designers, web developers, sales managers on a day-to-day basis has really accelerated my understanding of business in general and the window industry specifically. It’s also been good applying learning from modules to what I’m doing in the office.”
“This is one of the key points for us”, explains John Leary, Sales and Marketing Director, Emplas and Tom’s in-house ‘mentor’. “Although we offer a range of digital tools and customer support packages, we’re also investing in people to support them.
“Tom, in common with the other new members of the team in IT and customer services, is helping to bring genuine added value to what we do, ensuring a continuity of service and experience but also bringing new skills into our operation”, he concludes.