News & Views

Addressing the skills shortage starts at home…

The construction sector is not without its fair share of challenges to deal with and it seems there’s always something, such as the recent Brexit vote, waiting around the corner to throw yet more problems into the pot. However, the much publicised skills shortage / skills gap is one such issue that simply refuses to go away.

I and others have spoken at length over recent years about the many causes behind the skills shortage, and we have even had a stab at suggesting ideas about how the problem can be solved both at a macro- and micro-level. Despite this and the concerns of pretty much every sector of the construction industry there is still a tremendous amount to be done, and I believe we must look closer to home if we really want to change things.

The Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) has long promoted the benefits of training, skills acquisition and at the higher education level, the promotion of Civil Engineering and specialisation in geotechnical engineering and engineering geology at Universities. In fact it is a fundamental obligation of the FPS that we work tirelessly to encourage more people into the geotechnical sector, doing as much as we can to prevent the skills shortage escalating further and even reversing the trend. Believing it is always better to add actions to our words, along with many other initiatives, the FPS has introduced a number of bursaries, which are open to Civil Engineering graduates embarking on a MSc. in Geotechnical Engineering, Soil Mechanics or Engineering Geology at the following universities: Newcastle, Dundee, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Surrey and Imperial College.

There are five bursaries available of £4000 each, but apart from the support they provide to students, they have also a number of unique features. Specifically, the FPS will work with the successful candidates to identify MSc. dissertation topics that are of interest to the piling industry. More importantly, the successful candidates will undertake a 1-2 month placement with one of the Members of the FPS, and have the opportunity to work on their projects and gain some hands-on experience from a geotechnical specialist. They will also be invited to attend the FPS Awards dinner in October, where they can meet and network with industry people in a real-world environment.

It is expected the bursaries will have both direct and indirect benefits; directly they will help individuals in their studies, but indirectly, they should help promote the sector – creating a buzz and interest in civil engineering subjects and the wider geotechnical arena. The FPS acknowledges that five bursaries is only a drop in the ocean, but if all sectors were to launch similar initiatives, the excitement it would create and the dynamic image it would project would certainly allow the construction sector to stand out against the backdrop of so many more high-profile sectors competing for the future careers potential of young people.

The skills shortage is real and is ever present in discussions about the future of the construction sector. Investing in future potential is difficult when current market confidence is uncertain, but we must not repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing talent to bypass our industry. We could all take the easy route and assume that ‘someone else’ will take the problem in hand, but we know this approach has never served us well in the past. No, if we want to make progress, the first step is for us to take as businesses, as trade associations and as an industry. It need only be a small step, but when taken together it could be a giant leap!