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The Skills Challenge

The InstallerFUTURES programme aims to create a platform for debate around skills and training. Over the coming weeks, we will be talking to members of our Advisory Board about their view of the key issues and how we can address them.

We begin with Ruth Scarrott, of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, who makes the case for collaboration.

Ruth first encountered the breadth of the construction industry through her work with long term unemployed people, many of whom were looking for labouring-type roles. After that she progressed to supporting young people into apprenticeships: “This opened my eyes to the commitment and dedication the industry has in creating that talent pipeline. As my career developed, I had the honour to get under the skin of the culture of both large and small construction firms. Each one faced the same challenges – not having enough workers to fulfil the order book. Working with them (and challenging their ingrained thinking) I now have the massive satisfaction of seeing new and existing employees be retained and nurture careers that are life-long.”

Ruth says that it is through collaboration and partnerships that she has been able to drive innovation and foster organisational growth. A passion for equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) has led to her involvement with InstallerFUTURES – applying this to the wider construction industry.

“I’m where I am because I truly believe in the power of attracting and retaining new people and supporting their career aspirations. This means working with organisations who ‘get it’ and who see past short term ‘bottom line’ thinking. Instead these firms know that their success is driven by their people, and in showing their commitment, it will see their businesses soar.”

From Ruth’s perspective, the primary challenge is the need for comprehensive skills development and workforce upskilling to meet the demands of evolving technologies and sustainable practices – and this applies particularly in roofing and construction.

“This requires a commitment from each firm to be part of the solution and that means dropping the whining about ‘all young people are lazy’. I always counter by joking that all 50+ year olds are boring.”

Ruth has no time for the usual excuses: “When someone says there is no training local to me, I say, ‘When was the last time you checked, or pushed for training to be offered locally, or contacted your trade association for instance to ask why?’. When they say training costs money and time off the job, I reply ‘Yes it does. And why shouldn’t it? You cannot expect an experienced, qualified workforce to magically appear in your business’.”

She believes it’s vital to change the thinking so that the main business objective becomes an aim to build the workforce of the future: “You invest in it. You build your talent pipeline. The main problem is the inertia from some in the industry to do anything to improve the situation.”

So how do we address this challenge? Ruth believes it’s important to realise that change needs time and money: “Closing the skills gap and fostering innovation means investing to implement robust training programmes (apprenticeships, work experience, graduate roles); maximising CITB and government grants, and collaborating with educational institutions are crucial steps. If this all sounds daunting – it is!”

It is also about changing attitudes. At NFRC, Ruth is setting out to help the roofing industry to be part of the solution with its roofing careers service: “We are collaborating with key stakeholders and bringing a ‘playbook’ of resources, practical help and hands-on support to our members. I have the privilege of hearing about the trials and successes of each business that the careers service touches.”

Government policy naturally has a part to play and Ruth believes that skills policy requires more flexibility: “The apprenticeship levy is still not welcomed by the industry, while the CITB levy is still massively underutilised. The funding for skills landscape is complex and ever-changing.”

But it also comes back to collaboration: “Every conversation I have with government departments includes me adamantly asking that the industry is consulted about new programmes or amendments to existing ones. Being round the right tables is important for this to be successful.”

Ruth is part of a number of working groups, from the onsite T Level working group to the apprenticeship diversity champions network (where she is the only construction SME voice), to the DWP’s National Employer & Partnership Team. Despite the challenges, there are grounds for optimism: “I’m optimistic about the industry’s commitment to skills development and innovation. Ongoing partnerships with organisations like CITB demonstrate progress in addressing recruitment and retention challenges.”

Ruth hopes that the InstallerFUTURES programme will play a pivotal role – facilitating knowledge exchange, networking, and showcasing careers within construction and allied sectors, not just at InstallerSHOW but via the Installer and elemental platforms, providing support throughout the year.

And what underpins Ruth’s optimism is what the younger generation can offer: “I am inspired by their resilience and creativity, particularly in their pursuit of continuous learning and contribution to societal causes. However, concerns remain regarding equitable access to education and opportunities, which highlights the importance of addressing systemic barriers. Once a person chooses construction, rather than falling into it because they see no other option then they thrive. So let’s all work together to empower individuals and build a brighter future for generations to come.”

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