A “lost generation” of construction specialists is causing problems in all areas of the building sector. But here, Sally Peck from Apex Scaffolding explains why firms like hers are charged with laying the foundations for the development of the next wave of industry experts – and how she is addressing the skills shortage.

The fact that the UK is facing a skills gap in the construction sector is old news.

But it is only very recently that companies have roused themselves over the issue.

After all, this is a matter of self-preservation.

We all need to get on board here – in every area of the sector – or we will face an unprecedented crisis from which we might not recover.

The problem

When the recession hit, construction contracted by 16.5% in the just three years.

More than 350,000 tradesmen and women lost their jobs and, afraid the industry would not be secure for sometime, retired, re-trained or found new employment.

In response, the industry cut back on training and stopped offering apprenticeships.

And then things started to improve.

The sector began to recover, the Government introduced plans for new housing, the Help to Buy scheme was launched and mortgages were easier to come by.

Suddenly there was plenty of work – but nobody to do it.

Youth unemployment

Then, in 2011 England was rocked by an eruption of rioting among youths in London and other large cities.

In the aftermath the UK’s high youth unemployment rate was highlighted as a probable cause.

It seemed like during the recession we had failed to keep young people in school, or to guide them into the labour market.

According to official stats, at the time of the riots there were more than a million people aged 16 to 24 in England who were not in employment, education or training.

They called this deskilled, demotivated, under-educated group the “lost generation”.

The construction sector

Never has this lost generation been more keenly missed than in the construction and trade industries.

In 2013 the number of young people completing construction apprenticeships in England fell to just 7,280, half the figure for 2008/09.

Meanwhile, various bodies have forecast growth in UK construction output at more than 4% this year and next.

The Construction Industry Training Board predicts that more than 182,000 construction vacancies will be created in the next four years as an ageing workforce marches towards retirement.

But the flow of new talent coming into the industry has slowed to a trickle.

What can be done?

At Apex we firmly believe that an apprenticeship system is vital to stimulate economic growth by developing the skills base and employability of young people.

In the last decade we have weathered the storm of the recession along with everyone else.

But we made a conscious decision not to slash funds for apprenticeships from our budget.

As a result we have lots of young people on our workforce who are honing their skills and growing in confidence and ability under our training programmes.

Getting young people into the sector

Apprenticeships are about having the right skills in the right place at the right time, and if we do not get that right, we cannot hope to grow as an economy.

I would strongly advise other businesses like ours to consider re-implementing training schemes and bringing new blood into the company.

We also need to work hard at attracting young people.

To do this we must work with educators to create a unified and attractive vision of the variety of career paths on offer in the sector.

We should also examine how construction investment can be used to generate more training and jobs for young people.