In this Comment piece, Robert Candy, Chief Executive of the Scaffolding Association, talks about workforce issues…
The scaffolding and access sector has always had its fair share of challenges. Access to work, labour shortages and payment terms run through the industry like a stick of rock. The UK’s exit from the EU and the pandemic continue to impact these issues. One might take comfort that the wider construction sector feels the same pain as do many others.
In recent weeks, the UK has taken huge steps towards ‘living with Covid’ and despite the pandemic being far from over, society has started to adapt to living alongside it. The construction sector, and the hundreds of trades that support it, had to adapt much sooner.
Two years ago, when many were closing the doors on their offices, manufacturing plants and retail outlets, the construction industry largely carried on. Construction businesses worked through the height of the pandemic and global repercussions which impacted manufacturing and supply chains, increased the costs of supplies and severely reduced the availability of labour.
Just as society has learnt to live alongside the pandemic, the construction industry is adjusting to a new normal where things cost more, take longer to arrive and good people are even harder to find than they once were. It is the latter of these points that we are perhaps most able to have a positive impact on – finding people.
A new generation of workers to replace an ageing workforce and the 50,000 European Union born workforce that some suggest the industry has lost in recent years. That’s over a quarter based on pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps we once relied too heavily on this migratory labour and failed to invest in our own people to grow a homegrown workforce?
There are many other factors including the poor perception of the construction industry as a career choice and the lack of available and relevant training. This is particularly relevant to scaffolding and access trades. If we are going to attract this new generation of workers, we have much work to do to resolve some of these underlying issues. The reality is that scaffolding and access is hugely diverse and offers a wide range of career opportunities with good pay and good prospects.
We just need to do far more than we are doing to make that message heard. We should also look beyond the younger generation – the current UK labour market presents an opportunity to attract those looking for a change of career and there are several other sources we can recruit from such as through ex-offender and veteran schemes which are becoming increasingly popular and well-funded. Investing in our existing workforce is also vitally important.
Once we find decent people, we must work harder to keep them. In most cases it is easier to hold onto someone than it is to replace them. I come back to the point about the need to do more to demonstrate how diverse the sector is and the wide range of career opportunities with good pay and good prospects we have to offer.
We need to do far more than we are doing to make this message heard and the Association has some exciting plans to support this difficult task which I hope will bring our industry together. Where there are shared challenges and objectives, it is vital that we all collaborate for the good of the sector. I look forward to updating you as these plans progress.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SCAFFOLDING ASSOCIATION
This article was originally published in AccessPoint Magazine, if you would like to receive future editions of the magazine for free you can join the mailing list here: