31 JUL 2020


Retaining existing talent and attracting a diverse range of people to avoid future skills shortages were key points discussed at the latest Infrastructure Intelligence Covid Recovery webinar, writes Rob O'Connor.

A major focus on both retaining existing talent and attracting a diverse and creative range of new people into the industry to avoid future skills shortages emerged as the key talking points at the latest Infrastructure Intelligence webinar on Friday 31 July 2020. “Post-Covid: the skills challenge for construction” was the last in the summer series of ten free online Friday morning Covid Recovery webinars.

The popular webinars saw more than 2,000 people hear leading industry figures debate a range of issues over the last two months, including the role of infrastructure investment in kickstarting the economy, changing business models and building resilience within the industry, delivering future public and private sector pipelines and the future of infrastructure in a post-virus world.

Hosted by Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker, the skills webinar included WSP chief executive Mark Naysmith and Hannah Vickers, ACE CEO, both of whom played a key role in getting the Construction Talent Retention Scheme up and running, and they were joined by two leading women from the industry - Sarah Beale, chief executive of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and Katie Hulland, president of Women in Transport.

All the panellists added their own clear insight into the practical steps the industry needs to take to safeguard its skills base during a potential downturn. 

The launch of the Construction Talent Retention Scheme on 24 July is already being seen as a key part of the Construction Leadership Council's recovery plan for the construction sector and more than 500 companies employing more than 100,000 people quickly signed up to support the scheme within a matter of days after its launch.

Sarah Beale from CITB began by outlining the scale of the challenge facing the industry and emphasised the importance of retaining existing talent highlighting the dangers of a significant fall in the number of apprentices set to be recruited this year. “It’s fair to say that Covid-19 presents the biggest challenge to the industry in the last 50 years and we’re still waiting to see what type of recovery lies ahead,” she said. “We expect a significant fall in the number of apprenticeships, with only 22% of firms telling us that expect to recruit any new apprentices this year,” said Beale.

Looking ahead, Beale highlighted £7.5m additional construction skills funding to provide on-site work experience for 6,000 people, and described the importance of the industry working closely with the further education sector to create a clear pathway from college to real jobs in the industry. “Employers are telling us that one of the biggest single issues is staff retention and the skills gap created by losing good people,” said Beale. “We can’t emphasise enough the importance of retaining talent. Collaboration across the industry has been amazing during the pandemic and must be continued,” she said.

WSP’s Mark Naysmith built on the points outlined by Beale and repeated his recent plea to the industry to do all it can to both retain existing talent and continue recruiting a diverse and creative range of new emerging professionals to avoid a future skills shortage. Comparing the current Covid crisis to the lessons learnt in responding to the global financial crash of 2008, Naysmith said: “There’s a balancing act between reshaping a business and maintaining a strong skills base. Losing talent would be storing up problems for the future and we must look to avoid creating a skills shortage this time around.

“The industry needs to continue recruiting a diverse and creative range of new young professionals over the next 18 months – we mustn’t lose a whole year of recruitment, as this will lead to problems further down the line,” he said.

Hannah Vickers from ACE emphasised that both the initial and ongoing collaboration and joint work of the industry continued to be a fantastic response the Covid crisis and she described how the Construction Talent Retention Scheme happened within a matter of weeks which, she said, showed the agility of the industry in quickly adapting to change.

“Different parts of the sector will recover at different rates of pace, but we are bringing the industry together to retain as many people as possible and help avoid the worst effects of any potential skills gap,” said Vickers. Looking ahead, she outlined the need for the industry to take a leading role on re-skilling its workforce to help boost the economic recovery.

“We need to look beyond more than just talent retention and look towards both re-skilling and attracting a wide range of new skills and talent into the industry,” said Vickers. “We need to be braver in terms of inclusivity and the new talent we bring into the industry as a vital part of the wider economic recovery,” she said.

Women in Transport president Katie Hulland emphasised the positive impact of diversity in the industry and the post-Covid recovery, saying it was vital that the question of gender diversity was not forgotten in the current crisis. “Attracting and retaining women in the industry is vital to the post-Covid recovery,” said Hulland. “We have an enormously untapped pool of female talent in the industry and if we get this right the prize is huge. There would be a £47bn boost to the economy if we make the most of female talent in the industry. We should embrace the new world,” she said.

Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker said: “This skills webinar was a brilliant end to what has been an outstanding summer series of webinars. All the speakers were interesting, informative and knowledgeable and they didn’t shirk from some of the difficult questions posed by the audience. Despite the challenges the industry faces as we emerge from the Covid crisis, provided we do the right things well, I’m confident that we can come through it all in a stronger position.”

Following the success of this summer’s webinars, a new online series of Infrastructure Intelligence Live events will take place this autumn. Further details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Information webinars on how the Talent Retention Scheme will work

To help both businesses and candidates make the most of the free skills platform, ACE is hosting two webinars which will feature a practical presentation. For businesses it will outline how they can showcase opportunities and search for talent. For individuals, it will show how they can find contract or permanent roles, upload their career details, and more. Click the links below to register now.

Making the most of the CLC Talent Retention Scheme – Businesses
A webinar for ACE members on Wednesday 5 August at 12pm.

Making the most of the CLC Talent Retention Scheme – Individuals
A webinar for employees in the consulting and engineering sector on Friday 7 August at 12pm.


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