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The “Re-Skilling Revolution”

Has the Effort to Retrain Workers and Attract Tech Savvy Talent made any Difference on Productivity?

Mr Suresh M Lodha is one of India’s formidable business figures and is accredited with scaling businesses for sustained growth. He is the Chairman of the British Engineering company Western Thermal Group, a leading specialist engineer in thermal & acoustic insulation, ventilation ductwork, trace heating, and fire stopping. Western Thermal has been operating at the pinnacle of the industry for over 30 years offering high-quality engineering work from supply to execution.

Ever since innovative and transformative technologies have come into the construction industry, executives are seeing the re-skilling and retraining of existing workers as an absolute business priority that businesses themselves must lead on. With the vast development of technology and the growing need for skilled workers to be able to use this technology, there has been a huge effort to re-skill the current workforce within the UK and attract a new generation of tech-savvy employees, to avoid losing out on the potential productivity benefits in time for the next industrial revolution.

Improving productivity within the construction sector has been a long-term priority. Factors including strict rules and regulations and a fragmented industry means that the sector has been battling with poor performances for a number of years. Improving the performance of employees by developing their skills will have a knock-on effect on UK infrastructure and house building delivery. By improving the delivery of such projects, it will ultimately ensure that they are completed on time and within budget.

One of the biggest obstacles to date, when addressing methods to improve productivity, is where to source the talent that will plug this skills gap. One particular generation that needs to be targeted is, of course, Millennials and Generation Zs, who have grown up with technology and who will drive the digital revolution.  As they will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, employers will need to be able to recognise their abilities to make a difference on the company due to their experiences which include greater education, their motivation, flexibility and collaboration which are positive traits associated with this particular generation.

The Apprenticeship Levy, which was introduced in April last year, is the UK government initiative to committing another three million apprenticeships across all industries by 2020. This is designed to help source a younger emerging workforce and address the productivity issue. However, as this won’t come into full effect until 2025, this means there is a joint focus on reskilling the current workforce. The current efforts companies are undertaking to address this include accelerating the use of new and disruptive technology in training. These technologies consist of augmented reality tools, artificial intelligence and 3D printing technologies that are attracting more potential recruits and students.

However, there is still more that needs to be done. Current educational programmes need to go an extra step to prepare the future workforce. Apprenticeships and training curriculums need to reflect the modern methods of construction, including the new technology involved and training on how to operate them. Mace’s Moving to Industry 4.0 reports have outlined more than 600,000 jobs could be automated and workers re-skilled for new roles by 2040 if we are successful in plugging the productivity gap.

Key funders, educators and public officials running training programmes and apprentice schemes also need to do their part by ensuring their skills programs match the construction industry requirements and trainees develop not only their core skills but also advanced ones in operating new technology and using digital devices both on and offsite, to maximise their technological sophistication.

Since this call to action, the UK’s construction PMI figures have revealed a jump in growth readings to 55.8, a positive turnaround from the earlier 53.1 reading. In contrast to manufacturing figures released a weeks ago, which fell to a three-month low, the construction figures suggest optimism amongst businesses within the sector. The rate of new order growth and job creation also expanded at a strong rate, further signalling positivity amongst construction companies and reassurance that current efforts to plug the skills gap and increase productivity are taking effect. However, there is still a way to go.

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