October 20, 2020

Raising standards across the board is crucial to bridging construction skills gap

With the UK construction sector facing challenges on multiple fronts, Paul Simpson, Commercial Director at Recticel Insulation, believes that it’s time to improve the chronic skills shortage situation.


The UK construction industry is facing a well-reported skills shortage due to tradespeople retiring or leaving the sector without being replaced. It’s an issue that needs addressing urgently if the country’s future building requirements are to be met. But as well as sourcing new recruits to fulfil project demand, might a change of mindset amongst existing employees be in order to help raise building standards? 

Understandably, the UK construction skills shortage tends to focus on the practical expertise of roofers, engineers, bricklayers, carpenters and the like. But good building practice in these areas is also important to improve structural performance, and this requires an adaption in attitude as much as anything else.

Correct material specification is vital to building success. It’s an unwritten rule that applies right across the industry, particularly in relation to roofing and general construction. However, it appears all but a few key players are able to offer customers the guidance they need to ensure a new-build or renovation project’s safe, effective delivery.

Selling customers short

Too often, the emphasis is on cost rather than performance when it comes to offering a client a waterproofing system, for example. ‘Get the sale’ seems to be the mantra among some contractors, regardless of whether it’s the appropriate option. With this of course comes the danger that such disregard will lead to poor specification and products. This really doesn’t equate to value for money, as corner-cutting and not knowing what products are and how they relate to each other increases the risk of system failure and further, potentially costly repair. In a worst case scenario, poor specification could put lives at risk. This is where engaging with a specialist company such as Gradient, Recticel’s sister company, proves crucial.

Gradient’s turnkey service offering in relation to single-layer roofing solutions means our  technical teams are available at every stage of a project; from the initial consultation, site survey and design phase, through to installation and aftersales support. We view this close working relationship with clients as essential to us developing a bespoke single-layer roofing solution to suit their precise requirements. Furthermore, this single-point provision simplifies what is a potentially stressful process for the client by eliminating the need for multiple contacts.

Training resource

To supplement our consultation, design and manufacturing service, Gradient opened a training centre in 2019. In essence, it is designed to tutor our clients. For merchants and distributors, the training centre has proved useful in raising their product awareness in order for them to give informed advice to customers. A workshop, for example, might involve demonstrating why ordinary construction board shouldn’t be used as part of a flat roof application, how to achieve falls that are compliant with BS:6229, and which height an upstand is required to meet. Information such as this will mean distributors and the like are able to offer informed, over-the-counter advice to customers, with the end result being a good quality installation. It would be nice to think in future, more manufacturers will offer similar training resources for the benefit of customers and the greater-good of the industry. 

Education, education

In my opinion, the current construction skills shortage is partly due to college-trained employees leaving their place of learning and not continuing with their education once they embark on a career in the trade. It means their knowledge doesn’t extend to the raft of new products and technologies that arrive on the market. An antidote to this might be to provide a programme of events similar to CPD whereby builders are credited for having an understanding of updated technologies.

Any industry worth its salt should develop continuous improvement initiatives. It’s mandatory for architects to undertake such programmes but in the building and roofing sectors, individual companies or employees are left to make their own training arrangements.

There ought to be a legislative programme in place to upskill our construction workforce. Perhaps then it will become the type of industry people want to join.  Incentive-based training schemes are an obvious enticement to further education. The offer of a recognised qualification and an opportunity for career progression and improved remuneration would benefit the individual, as well as add much-needed kudos to the occupation itself.

Desirable occupation

In business, reputation is everything, and so it should be with industries if they are to thrive. Compared to the film, music or sports sectors, the building trade will never be thought of as ‘glamourous’. But that doesn’t preclude it from being considered desirable. After all, having a hand in shaping our future built environment ought to be viewed as quite an alluring prospect. It’s a message the construction industry should be sending to school and college students, as their participation is crucial to the industry’s future. There is much to be said for a career in construction, and the industry itself should be more forthcoming in saying it.