The National Federation of Builders (NFB) held its sixth annual conference on Wednesday, November 22, in London. The conference entitled ‘Making a success of UK construction’ took place at the County Hall in Westminster, London.
Hosted by broadcaster and journalist Cathy Newman for the fourth consecutive year, the successful event brought together leading industry and Government figures to address some of the key issues in the industry.
Dominic Williams, Communities and Local Government unit portfolio holder of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), opened this year’s conference, highlighting the important role that SMEs play in the economy especially within regional communities.
At the heart of the challenge facing the construction industry is the need to attract new workers and improve training and skills. The industry is set to lose around 400,000 workers through natural attrition and retirement.
Former MP, Neil Carmichael, addressed the need to reform and spearhead technical education in order to tackle the UK’s skills shortage. He said: “We need to create a real centre of growth in regional cities and young people need to know what the work opportunities are within the industry. This requires businesses of all types to work with colleges and schools. It is essential to broaden the school curriculum.”
There are a number of key reasons why the UK is currently facing a skills shortage in the construction industry. The shortage has been a factor in increasing wages, which has had further impact on important infrastructure work, including the efforts to build more homes.
Jemma Bridgeman, Wales manager of Construction Youth Trust, councillor Nicola Beech, cabinet member for Spatial Planning and City Design for Bristol City Council, and Kathleen Henehan, research and policy analyst from Resolution Foundation, focused on how construction can deliver the skills needed for a successful industrial strategy.
Although the UK needs to build 300,000 homes each year, the Government needs to commit to simplifying the planning process and harness the intrinsic value of SMEs in tackling the housing crisis.
The housing panellists agreed that underfunding of planning authorities is a major barrier to increasing supply. In the budget, Philip Hammond announced more support for SMEs as he vowed to increase the current Homebuilding Fund. Asher Craig, deputy mayor for communities, Bristol City Council stated that: “SMEs have an important part to play in keeping Britain building.”
With the uncertainty of Brexit’s impact on the future of UK construction, the Brexit panellists provided balanced and practical guidance to inform and prepare businesses for the changes ahead.