Improve digital and decarbonisation skills to return construction to growth

The business of making predictions is fraught with peril, as 2020 showed, says Steve Radley

So, while we can’t say with certainty what will happen this year, there are a few areas where we can make predictions with some confidence. 

The first is that growth will return as employers deal with the backlog of work. Putting an exact figure on it is harder but CITB’s 2021-25 Construction Skills Network interim report forecasts average growth of 5.4% across the next five years, with housing and infrastructure performing best. This projection was made before the encouraging news on vaccines, which may hasten a return to something like normal life with faster growth accompanying it.  

The government’s National Infrastructure Strategy was published in November, which provides certainty to contractors to plan ahead and get the right skills in place.

On New Year’s Eve, we ended our Brexit transition. Our departure means there must be a greater focus on growing more of our own talent as our access to migrant workers becomes more restricted.

This is why CITB has been looking at new pathways from further education into the sector, including a new construction traineeship. We are also continuing our work to get more people site-ready through experience at onsite hubs. 

Longstanding challenges like boosting productivity will remain, and this is where the recovery can become a catalyst for reinvention. There are real opportunities around offsite construction and digitalisation which should become clearer, and we will help industry to develop the skills needed to push this forward. 

The drive towards decarbonisation, underpinned by the UK’s legal mandate to meet net zero by 2050, will accelerate. Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan outlined the opportunities for economic growth as we transform our built environment. Together with a Green Jobs Task Force, which CITB is supporting, this should give industry a clear signal of the government’s intentions and the confidence to invest. 

2020 was a year that became largely about survival for construction employers. This year, my prediction is that we get back to growth, and make progress on the sector’s big challenges and opportunities.

Steve Radley is director of strategy and policy at CITB

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