More construction workers needed to plug skills gap, experts warn

Scotland needs more construction workers to tackle shortages and address the demand for more homes, industry experts have said.

An independent group commissioned by the Scottish Government to examine housing and construction skills in Scotland has made 40 recommendations.

These include boosting the supply of bricklayers, joiners, and painters and decorators to address industry shortages, initially focusing on the Highlands and islands and south east Scotland, where the shortfall is more acute.

The Scottish Government is urged to review the clarity and quantity of its construction skills funding “actually reaching the sector for training”, particularly for small and medium-sized firms.

Further recommendations include investing in colleges to upgrade training facilities to deal with new technologies, setting up graduate apprenticeships to increase the number of local authority building and planning officers, and establishing a construction skills and professions council for Scotland.

Creating a Construction Minister for Scotland or a senior civil servant for this sector is also recommended.

Experts suggest early engagement in primary and secondary schools and better use of social media to promote the sector could help attract new workers.

Group chairman Professor Sean Smith, director of sustainable construction at Napier University, said: “Ensuring there is the correct supply of appropriate skilled staff to deliver the required housing and future types of technologies for design, management and construction is critically important.”

He said the coming decade will be one of the “most innovative and transformative periods for the housebuilding sector”.

“In the short term there are skills supply shortages and an ever pressing need for more homes to be built,” he added.

“Given the range of potential changes in future new home power supplies, smart technologies, energy saving devices, electric vehicle charging and self-powered homes, the coming period presents challenges but also exciting opportunities for new skill sets, workforce diversity, new entrants and their careers.”

The Scottish Government also published a separate report outlining views from more than 100 organisations on the wider challenges for housing in Scotland to 2040.

Issues raised included the need for improvements to existing housing stock and recognition of the distinct needs of Scotland’s rural communities.

Speaking at the Homes for Scotland Annual Conference in Edinburgh, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell welcomed the report recommendations.

She said: “We are already working collaboratively with industry, education, skills bodies and local authorities on programmes to develop the workforce required for major housebuilding projects.

“We need a housing system that works for us all, that is dynamic enough to adapt to future challenges and is resilient in the face of them.”