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UK infrastructure plan will need ‘colossal’ skills drive

The government’s announcement of a record £650bn investment in infrastructure projects over the next decade will need to be matched by an unprecedented surge in training and recruitment, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

A mixture of public money, private sector investment and the recruitment of more than 425,000 skilled workers is proposed to deliver the updated Infrastructure Pipeline plan published this week.

Over £30bn worth of social and economic projects are due to be launched this year, according to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority as part of an overall £200bn of work underpinning the government Build Back Better programme.

Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030’ lays out a detailed plan that could lead to a surge in new opportunities for apprentices, graduates, and experienced workers with the right skills, according to the Association.

Transport, energy, and utilities will command the largest share of the work, but there are also big plans for social and digital infrastructure between now and 2025.

BESA welcomed the updated plan as a “vote of confidence” for the sector but pointed out that the programme relies heavily on improving productivity through greater use of digital technology and innovation. Increasing use of Modern Methods of Construction will also be crucial as the projects unfold, but all of that will need to be supported by an upsurge in specific skills many of which are currently in short supply, the Association added.

“The current turmoil in our supply chains is a stark reminder of how failing to invest in training and retaining high quality people can undermine the best laid plans,” said BESA’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet.

“The government’s infrastructure plans are extremely exciting, but will place even greater strain on the industry’s workforce unless accompanied by a colossal push to bring new blood into the sector and upskill existing workers.”

However, competition for skilled staff is expected to continue heating up over the next two to five years and will require employers in construction and engineering-related fields to look closely at what they have to offer.

“People shortages are likely to continue for an extended period,” said Yeulet. “This is not just about Brexit. We have seen a whole shift in the economy, which was accelerated by the pandemic and has led to record pay packages for people working in transport, logistics and hospitality.

“On the plus side, it has also started to redress the balance for many people in low paid jobs and means employers in our sector need to make sure what they are offering is attractive,” she added. “They need to make sure they are treating existing staff fairly and have clear career progression plans in place to entice new people into our sector with the right skills to take us forward.”

BESA said it was seeing encouraging growth in the numbers of young people interested in workplace-based training where they can work towards high level qualifications including degrees via an employer, who offers a guaranteed job at the end.

The rise of technical training including the introduction of T-levels is also helping to promote careers in building engineering and related disciplines giving further hope for the future.

“The current turmoil in labour markets should be something of a wake-up call for many employers,” said Yeulet. “There are a lot of workers who feel undervalued and treated like commodities. Investing in their professional development and rewarding them properly is the best way to demonstrate that their skills are valued.

“Building engineering will play a crucial role in rebuilding the economy and driving us towards a lower carbon future, so it is very important that we don’t undervalue our own product. Ironically, this difficult period could be a great opportunity to leave our ‘low-cost cut price’ culture behind and show clients why the whole industry deserves to be better funded and rewarded.”

GUEST BLOG: Facilities Management firms need to streamline efficiencies ahead of Brexit

By Drey Francis, Director at Engage Technology Partners

While the Brexit ‘deal’ remains up in the air and the uncertainty continues for UK businesses, employers in the Facilities Management field are understandably nervous.

As an arena that has undoubtedly been heavily reliant on European talent to fill demand in a skills short environment, the potential to have an increasingly limited pool of staff to tap into is certainly a concern.

In fact, our recent pay data revealed that the Brexit vote has had a direct impact on hourly rates as businesses look to retain staff. According to the statistics, since the vote to leave the Bloc in 2016, hourly pay for skills-short roles has increased, with maintenance positions in particular noting an uptick in money. Handymen and mechanical maintenance professionals reported the greatest increase in the three years since the vote at 13% and 10% respectively, while electricians saw a 5% rise in hourly rates.

Given how sparse some of the talent for these roles is in general, it’s perhaps no wonder that employers are turning to financial incentives to attract staff. However, this isn’t a sustainable approach.

Of course, we still need to wait and see what happens in terms of the agreement on the Freedom of Movement for the UK, but action can be taken now to improve staffing efficiencies in order to better cope with the expected upheaval in Spring 2019.

So where can FM businesses streamline activity to better weather the storm that lies ahead?

Identify the right areas to improve

There’s long been a trend across the industry to limit supplier margins in order to reduce expenditure – a tactic that many will likely turn to as times get tough. However, the true results of this approach aren’t as impactful as you might perhaps be led to believe, and I would argue that this isn’t a sustainable strategy in a talent short market.

Margins have long been on a downward trajectory in recruitment, but when you consider that you ‘get what you pay for’, is this really the right tactic? Yes, identifying where there are inconsistencies in mark-ups will be a beneficial cost-cutting exercise, but only if done while also looking at the wider picture.

In my view, the greatest area of improvement across Facilities Management lies in the often lengthy and quite frankly, inefficient, administrative, recording and resourcing processes. Too often there is a lack of automation and data sharing that is causing significant ‘wastage’ in FM operations.

For example, compliance checks can often be duplicated as information is not stored in one centralised location. Resourcing mangers can also face budget overruns due to inefficient record keeping, with off-PSL agencies used to fill last minute demands when in fact the required staff could be found in other areas of the business. And with many recording tools often being used separate to payroll systems, the entire resourcing management process can become overly complex and the chance of errors occurring is increased.

Don’t forget the candidate experience

Perhaps more importantly, without a truly joined up approach, many candidates and employees are facing an experience that perhaps doesn’t resonate well with their expectations. With budgets pushed lower, the risk for people to be treated as commodities rather than the valued individuals that they are is increased.

And, of course, the limitations of some administrative processes can see staff paid late or not enough due to timesheet or filing errors. The result is a disgruntled workforce that is less engaged with your business and subsequently, more likely to steer clear of your business in the future. A less than ideal situation given that automating admin processes can often be relatively simple to implement.

And herein lies the biggest consideration for FM businesses: how much is it costing you to find out how much it costs? With a disjointed administrative process, it is arguably costing decision makers to find out where there are budget overruns and where savings can be made. All in all, money is being spent to look at how money can be saved, before any concrete action is taken.

But that doesn’t have to be the case – often it is the small efficiencies that can have the greatest impact.

For FM businesses, now really is the time to look at developing a joined-up approach to resource management before the chaos of Brexit truly hits home.