We live in our houses, using the inside to create the space in which we eat, drink, sleep, watch Netflix, and chill. Most of us live in a house that is old, whether it’s 100, 50, 30 or only 10 years since it was first built. The exterior probably looks much the same as when it was first constructed, whereas the inside of our homes has changed massively, largely thanks to technology. Those changing interiors will be the subject of a future blog, but today it’s the outside of our homes that concerns me: specifically, the changing relationships between humans and technology that the housebuilders are grappling with as they plan their future investments.
As we've written about before, 3D printed homes are starting to offer builders and home-owners a quicker, cheaper way to create a house from almost nothing. In addition, we will (almost) all want a charging point for an electric car in the near future and solar/PV panels may become mandatory on every new build. Rising concerns about climate change will drive governments to legislate and with this will come increasing challenges (albeit good ones) for housebuilders. Then we get into the really exciting stuff. Never mind the internet of things, how about the internet of beings, where tech connects up, say, a path to the front door so that your and your visitors’ footsteps generate electrical power that the house then uses?
All of which begs the question, from an employer’s/recruiter’s point of view, are your current employees, whether the general labourers on the building site or the structural engineer back at HQ, up-to-speed with all this? Perhaps even it might lead you to wonder just how many employees are going to face technological redundancy in the next decade? And one factor which is most definitely driving forward technical change is the shortage of skilled workers in construction – and in particular in housebuilding - in Scotland. As the BBC reported last month, we are currently building 7,000 new homes too few every year to meet the demand and that’s partly because we don’t have the people to build them.
An independent group of experts, commissioned by the Scottish Government, has been looking into this problem. The BBC reportcites the group’s chairman Prof Sean Smith, Director of Sustainable Construction at Napier University, who 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." Professor Smith also noted that “the coming decade will be one of the "most innovative and transformative periods for the housebuilding sector (but) in the short term there are skills supply shortages and an ever-pressing need for more homes to be built."
That’s the demand we are seeing in waves at Peace. We – and our clients – know full well that the candidate market is tough. However, although some are a touch gloomy about this, there are some interesting changes coming down the track. As Professor Smith also said in his BBC interview, “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."
Those opportunities, plus those changing skill sets and the need to increase diversity amongst new entrants, are the challenge we all face over the next few years. One of the biggest problems though, in my opinion, is that construction journalism tends to exist within the bubble of our industry. So the ideas put forward by Professor Smith’s group (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), while all admirable in themselves, need to be seen as part of the overall, much discussed, skills gaps in many other areas of the economy. All great stuff, but so many other sectors are also in a similar boat. Whether it’s IT, Healthcare (especially the care element) or agricultural workers, different sectors all have a good case to make. Somehow or other we need to join up the education and training side so that transferrable skills allow people to move from one industry to another as technological change/unemployment kicks in.
This is not a request for a command economy with production targets for tractors and tarmac. The market is, in my view, a far more efficient mechanism for resolving our problems. That said, there is a place for government, and it’s in creating the joined-up educational infrastructure - the modern buildings and courses - that will get more kids studying STEM subjects, with a view to them being able to develop careers flexibly in a number of different areas, including those where the jobs have not been invented yet.
Linsey Toland, Manager (Housebuilding), Peace Recruitment