Invest in the next generation
If we want to futureproof our industry, we must continue to invest in the next generation of workers, says Sunil Pankhania, COO of the Westcombe Group.
Despite gloomy forecasts from analysts, in recent months the UK’s construction sector has had its highest growth rate since Q2 2022. Softer inflationary pressures and shorter than expected logistical delays mean that companies such as mine, the Westcombe Group – a leading UK property developer specialising in renovating listed and historic buildings – are increasingly confident about the months and years ahead.
Our sector is driven by its ambition to deliver large scale constructions projects, create more homes, and maintain critical infrastructure – in order to sustain economic growth and productivity for years to come.
If we are to achieve this, I truly believe that we must continue to invest in our most important asset – our people.
As the Chief Operating Officer of Westcombe, I have seen first-hand the urgent need to bolster the country’s workforce. The sector is currently facing a significant employee shortage, with an additional 225,000 workers required by 2027 to meet construction demand.
As somebody who has worked in this industry for 20 years, I believe we have a shared responsibility to convince the next generation of the value of a career in construction.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the construction industry is that it is solely made up of highly-skilled manual jobs with expertise only in areas such as bricklaying or carpentry. This often puts off academically inclined young people, who decide to pursue careers in more traditionally white-collar sectors such as law, banking, or consulting.
The construction industry is not just for those who want to work with their hands; it offers a huge range of professional opportunities for people with different skill sets, whether that be in civil engineering, architecture, project management, sustainability, or surveying. There is also a growing need for workers with advanced skills in fast-growing technologies such as additive manufacturing and AI-integrated building methods.
In fact, as of 2022, there were 393,500 people employed within the construction sector in roles deemed as ‘professional’. According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), this needs to increase to 413,500, if the UK is to meet its construction demands.
Compared to other sectors such as law or finance, where public funding, support, and opportunities are often hard to find, the construction industry has done well to break down barriers to entry and provide clear pathways for both graduates and non-graduates to start their careers in the field.
Organisations like the CITB are investing heavily in creating pathways for young people to enter into the construction industry.
Direct funding has been provided to over 1,600 businesses to invest in their workforce, with grants helping to fund over 269,000 training courses. In total, the CITB has invested £97m in grant funding to make it as easy as possible for employers to recruit and retain their skilled workforce.
At the Westcombe Group, our apprentices are given the opportunity to gain hands-on training and expertise, both on-site and in our head office – developing skills in their trade or profession under the guidance of experienced specialists.
Through investing in our people, my brother Kamal, CEO of Westcombe, and I, hope to pass along the same skills and insights which my father, Vraj Pankhania – Westcombe’s Founder and Chair – shared with us, in our youth.
But there is, of course, more to be done.
If the UK is serious about fulfilling its industrial and economic ambitions, and delivering a much-needed boost to our housing stock, the impetus must be on government, employers, and educators to continue to advocate for and promote the construction industry as a desirable and ambitious career option for the next generation, through public support and continued funding.
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