Closing the industry age gap is vital for hiring in the future
Attracting a younger generation to a career in the tool, plant and equipment hire sector is set to be a bigger challenge to businesses than the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, says Hire Association Europe (HAE).
Brexit will have implications for HAE members due to possible restrictions on workers from the European Union and potential tariffs for those who import and export capital equipment and goods. However, the need to reduce the average age of the hire workforce, which is over 50, and avoid a skills shortage in the future by recruiting and retaining more young people is essential for the industry now.
Tool, plant and equipment hire in the UK is mainly confined to these shores and is worth over £7Bn to the economy, though the public will usually relate the equipment they see operating on infrastructure projects, construction sites and motorway works with the main contractor rather than the hire companies.
By raising the industry’s profile through its career programme, HAE hire leaders are trying to counterbalance an ageing workforce and potential skills crisis by encouraging young people to step up to the plate and equipping them with the skills needed for a sector supplying the operational resources and equipment to fulfil many important infrastructure contracts.
HAE has over 900 members across the world, including major British companies such as JCB and A-Plant, and yet hire is an industry that tends to get overlooked by young people leaving education and seeking a career path, despite the potential for a relatively quick route to the top for someone talented, even from junior level.
A broad cross-section of skills is required to keep the hire sector competitive. Job opportunities are varied, ranging from depot managers, engineers and mechanics to customer service, IT, financial and logistics, but getting the right people is proving tricky – which is why HAE is promoting its apprenticeships and vocational degree courses.
HAE’s Managing Director Graham Arundell said: “When I’m talking to members I’m not getting any negatives in terms of Brexit, but what I am hearing is the biggest challenge facing the hire sector is recruiting and retaining young people. It’s not to say it’s more difficult in our industry than any other industry, but the education system is not turning out people with the right skill sets even for such a diverse marketplace as ours.
“The average age of the workforce is over 50 because younger people are not coming into the industry in the numbers we need. Some members look to recruit 50-60 apprentices a year but it can be a struggle to find the right quality of individual. That’s an issue going forward so we have to act now to ensure that a potential skills gap will not come to fruition.”
As part of HAE’s commitment to attracting and then supporting new people in the tool, plant and equipment hire sector, the association is driving ahead with initiatives such as the Future Hirers programme and the ILM Level 5 Graduate scheme, both aimed at 18-30-year-olds.
Future Hirers is all about working with educational establishments, explaining the opportunities and encouraging youngsters to consider a career in the hire sector by pushing apprenticeship programmes, while the Graduate scheme is a series of NVQ levels to encourage career progression within the hire industry to depot manager or even a senior manager or director role.
In a bid to win over young minds, HAE is also adapting gaming technology into award-winning (Commitment to Skills category of the Plantworx Innovation Awards 2017) virtual reality training modules, which are proving to be a big hit.
Mr Arundell added: “We are doing a lot of work on virtual reality, the spin-off from this initiative is at career fairs where we have lots of young kids queuing up to have a go at it. It gives us the opportunity to engage with them and make them aware of the industry and the different career paths on offer.”
It is hoped these initiatives will fast-track individuals on a career to reach the very top of the hire sector profession, like A-Plant chief executive Sat Dhaiwal, who has just announced plans to retire next summer after 16 years at the helm of the UK’s largest equipment rental firm. He started work on the old Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and worked his way up the ladder to run a successful multimillion-pound enterprise.
The hire sector is a vital component in enabling the delivery of economic activity, commercial and public, in the UK and globally. HAE members facilitate and provide the equipment for major entertainment, sporting and exhibition events. It is also enabling resource and capability behind much public and commercial investment: in land and buildings, infrastructure, national and international events, and corporate hospitality.
There is no doubt that the actions of HAE and its members will be crucial in refocusing career development, improving performance and creating ways of retaining the talent that can sustain the industry – and thus support other industries – through the decades to come.
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