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Hamish Champ is the editor of PRW. When not doinghis day job he finds time to ride his motorcycle, listen to Deep Purple and take his 12 year-old son to the cinema/park/football/pub...

The skills shortage: it's still with us

Posted on 29 July 2015

We all know the construction sector can be a lucrative end market for a range of plastic products: piping, ducts, roofing, window frames, panels, wiring insulation, etc.

And we all know that more houses need to be built in the UK. 250,000 a year, to be precise.

The problem, at least according to Pete Redfern, chief executive of house builder Taylor Wimpey, is that this figure is an unrealistic target.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this morning Redfern said his company had built nearly 7,000 new homes in the first half of the year and was on course to put up around 13,000 units over the course of 2015.

And the 250,000 target? No way. 200,000 was more likely, he said. And even this might be stretching a point. But why?

In the past the construction sector has been bedevilled by shortages of both materials and labour.

This time around the materials issue is being addressed, Redfern said, with brick makers starting up new kilns and imports helping to make up the shortfall.

However house builders faced a problem with which plastics sector companies would be all too familiar: labour. Particularly skilled labour.

Redfern said there was a shortage of bricklayers, site managers and other key construction personnel. He said this was being partly addressed by the interest in rolling out apprenticeship schemes; however more needed to be done to attract people, particularly youngsters, into the industry.

Maybe Redfern and some individuals from the plastics sector could put their heads together on how both sectors might do this. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved, as they say.

I was speaking to a plastics industry veteran yesterday who be-moaned youngsters’ attitudes toward starting a job – never mind a career – in manufacturing. It was a familiar lament.

Compared with what they might see as an alternative career path, many young people don’t seem to regard spending their days in a workshop as an attractive proposition.

Perhaps they don’t warm to the notion that they will have to work their way up and through an organisation, doing what they regard as menial tasks before doing the more ‘interesting’ stuff later in life.

Is this their fault, or that of the company that is offering to take them on? Some youngsters automatically like building stuff, making things, etc, from an early age. Others need more persuasion.

It is about engagement. Yes, young people need to have an open mind as regards the prospect of working in plastics.

But companies will be mindful of the need to illustrate exactly what, with some hard graft and application, a young person might be able to achieve in their operation. Some doubtless do this, others perhaps not.

With this laid out before them the penny might drop for young people considering a career in manufacturing.

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