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13 Apr 2022 < Back

Hodgson View: How do we replace ourselves...and quickly?

Over the last few months I have spoken to a number of people about the their businesses. Almost without exception I hear that good work has been plentiful. The main challenge has been finding the people to do the work, not finding the work for people to do. The questions we are trying to answer: Is the shortage of people a temporary problem that will be remedied when we work through the backlog of pent up, post-Covid demand? Will we get over the fact that BREXIT denied us of so much flexible foreign labour? When we stop being afflicted by regular staff absences, as we all catch colds and our kids stop coming home from school infected by new strains of the Coronavirus, will it be better? Productivity may improve when we all stop taking the holidays we have been denied for the last two years and realise we have a gas bill to pay next winter, or will it? Well quite frankly, NO it won’t. Ukraine and the energy crisis may bump us into a short term, inflation riddled recession for a bit, but in the longer term, we are “fooked”, unless we do something dramatic about the skills supply to the building industry and do it very soon.

The challenge...

Let’s look at the challenge. Bright people who want to come into the construction industry are few and far between. Despite the fact that climate change is fashionable and the need urgent. Rather than glue themselves to the M25, some of the bright minds that campaign for change could do a lot worse that train a retrofit designer, or deliver the energy saving solutions that they say are essential if we value our way of life. Campaigners for housing justice may want better living conditions for the poorest in society (a cause I support), but it might be better to train as a ventilation engineer or a structural engineer, rather than a philosopher or a sports cytologist.

The need for skilled labour

The fact is, governments and political parties of all colours, recognise the social, economic and environmental importance of high quality, sustainable homes. Trouble is there is no prospect of delivering both quality and quantity unless we sort the long term porosity of skilled labour that is choking our ambition and ability to do things better. Take the targets Government has set itself on retrofit. More than 20 million dwellings will need to have a medium term retrofit plan in place by 2035. This sets out the buildings route toward its contribution to UK carbon neutrality by 2050. Without doubt, this constitutes the biggest revolution in housing performance that has ever been attempted, ever. The numbers are fantastical in respect to cost, but achievable if we consider that if the money isn’t spent, we can probably only sustain the planet for another few generations. But actually the money isn’t the issue, the people to deliver the stuff is.

Providing real jobs with real purpose

The PCA is currently looking for a person to join the technical team and another to help with marketing. We are at the clean, respectable, slightly up itself, end of the construction industry. The job is interesting, the people we work with are mostly nice and there are always opportunities to learn. We pay reasonably well too. Can we find people - can we stuff (ring me if you’re interested). Scanning the horizon we see opportunities, we see demand, we see profit and real jobs with real purpose, but we also see lots of people who look like me, dress like me and talk about how it was, rather than how it could be. We must find a way to replace ourselves with people who want to run optimistically into the future, rather than worry about it. So, Boris mate, a lot has to change if we really do want to save the world or even just build back a bit better.  


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