Umer Mansoor, CEO of Construction Helpline, looks at the industry changes post Covid-19 and how tradespeople can recruit, upskill, and retrain for the future.

Following the Covid-19 lockdown, many businesses are starting to get back on their feet. As tradespeople up and down the country are exploring new ways of working while maintaining social distancing, focus is now being placed on how they can recruit, upskill and train employees safely.  

Returning to work 

Of course, getting back to work is essential, not just for the economy but also for emotional and mental wellbeing. However, at the same time it is just as important to adhere to the Government guidelines.  

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has issued guidance every step of the way. It is worth reading their recommendations for safe working practice post-covid.  

The need for PPE, social distancing, and regular hand washing feature heavily in the advice. However, the guidance also explains how to carry out jobs where more than one person is required. This involves minimising the time spent together and working side-by-side rather than face-to-face. One-way systems are recommended to stop paths crossing and if hands free technology can be used to sign in and out of sites, then even better. 

The number or size of rest areas need to be considered too with staggered breaks and limits on the number of people allowed in each breakout area to ensure that social distancing is maintained.  

What skills are needed? 

Installers are required to have a broad range of skills to meet the requirements of the job including good customer service, in-depth product knowledge, technical skill and competency, and an understanding of relevant health and safety requirements.  

Finding skilled individuals and upskilling current staff can be a challenge even in the best of times. So, where should companies and self-employed tradespeople start in the new post-lockdown environment? 

Carrying out a skills audit is a good starting point to see what new skills are required in the business and what training is required. There have been a lot of changes lately and likely more to come, so it is worth bringing all staff up to date on what the new normal involves. Even if some are still on furlough they are still able to take part in training. When time is available why not put it to good use?  

Bridging the skills gap 

With an aging workforce and the impact of Brexit reducing the number of EU migrants the every-increasing skills gap is a well-known fact within the construction industry.  

During the Summer economic update on 8 July the chancellor announced that the Government would provide £111 million in funding. The aim is to triple the scale of traineeships between 2020 and 2021 to ensure that more young people have access to high quality training. This is a welcome intervention that will hopefully attract more people into our industry. 

Recruiting the next generation 

The economic impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent job losses now means that there are a significant number of people looking for work. Attracting these people into the industry will not only provide much needed jobs and a boost to the economy, but it will also help to plug gaps in the industry caused by an ageing workforce that is slowly but surely retiring.  

One of the key elements of the summer economic update was the announcement of a new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme which will create hundreds of thousands of new, fully subsidised six-month work placements for young people aged between 16 and 24 across the country. The scheme is aimed at those who are currently receiving Universal Credit and who are at risk of long-term unemployment.  

The virtual future of training   

To attract the next generation into the industry the construction sector must embrace and incorporate new technologies into training.  

For example, the use of augmented reality and virtual reality tools to safely train new and existing employees is becoming much more commonplace. Immersive learning experiences are an attractive and exciting addition to the traditional classroom environment, and it is also beneficial to the construction industry as a whole, offering a new opportunity for learning. It allows students to experience potential real-life scenarios and learn new skills in a safe environment. As well as boosting confidence, it also saves money in the long run as it helps to reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes later down the line.  

Coventry University’s construction site simulator is an example of how augmented reality is helping to train the site managers of the future. The students learn in a safe 3D digital environment using interactive screens, actors, and real-life scenarios. This gives students and trainees exposure to potential situations that they might encounter throughout their career while in a safe environment.  

Embrace digital change to boost skills and recruitment 

The country has embraced technology during the lockdown period finding new ways of working, learning and communicating with others. This is likely to continue and the construction sector must follow suit by embracing and utilising the various technologies available to make sure that it is not left behind when it comes to attracting the next batch of talent.