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How the plastering industry can rebound from the skills crisis

Can tailoring training to employers’ needs help reduce the skills crisis?

With a dwindling supply of staff, an aging population and Brexit to deal with, many are questioning how the plastering industry can rebound from the skills crisis. One of the ways could be to further tailor training to the needs of employers.

For the last few decades our industry has been besieged by a skills crisis, which only worsened after the housebuilding slump of 2008. As the market slowed, more and more skilled workers left the industry and have never returned. The results have been catastrophic, with a skills shortage opening up at the heart of our industry.  Now, with the government looking to build a million new homes in England by 2020 the lack of skilled labour is becoming increasingly crippling. 

The crisis has not been helped by last June’s decision to leave the European Union, which creates fresh uncertainties for contractors who have become more and more dependent on European labour to fill the skills gap caused by lack of training at home. There are 250,000 migrant construction workers already here and it remains to be seen what the rules will be once Britain leaves the European Union. 

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Worryingly, surveys suggest that due to an aging workforce, around 700,000 of the 2.4 million construction workers plan to leave the sector in the next ten years. While the repair, maintenance and improvement sector has a more stable workforce than new build, it cannot escape the knock-on effects of these trends. Therefore, it’s essential to start getting more young people into the industry and it should be treated as a matter of urgency. 

After bricklayers, plasterers represent the second largest trade required for new homes. Housebuilding currently employ direct labour and sub – contractors which equates to around 25 per cent of plasterers but that requirement would rise to 40 per cent with output at 200,000 homes a year and 50 per cent at 250,000 homes. The obvious risk for the repair and maintenance sector is that it could lose its best workers to new build contractors offering higher pay. That puts an even greater premium on new products and techniques that can make the most of existing skills.

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It has left the industry in dire need of a plan, one that brings a resolute solution to a worsening problem. The most obvious route to a resolution is by providing more training. At British Gypsum, we’ve been providing industry-leading training for over 50 years, delivering over 500,000 days of training through our network of Technical Academies. 

What we’ve discovered is the crucial importance of tailoring training with employers in mind. As a country we’re not producing enough young people with the skills to meet the needs of UK employers. What’s more, research suggests more than half (52%) of young people have never given a career in construction any consideration. The ‘traditional academic’ route isn’t always the right path for everyone. Therefore, it is important that training providers link with schools and employers to forge relationships. 


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