Ireland can plug UK construction industry’s digital skills gap

Ireland can plug UK construction industry’s digital skills gap

Ireland sees an opportunity as 400,000 skilled workers will be needed every year but businesses want details

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government this week announced a major industrial strategy which it hopes will tackle the UK’s “low productivity”.

A crucial component of this is improving off site digital and construction skills. Enterprise Ireland was quick to point out that if the government is to meet its own house building and infrastructure targets it will need 400,000 new construction workers every year until 2021. This, it believes, is where Ireland can prove invaluable to the UK.

Enterprise Ireland’s Construction Sector Senior Market Advisor John Hunt told the Irish World: “While the UK Government’s drive to improve offsite, digital and construction skills is welcome news for the industry, labour shortages for infrastructure and housing ahead of Brexit remain a major concern.

“It has been widely reported that the UK will require 400,000 new construction workers every year until 2021 to meet its infrastructure targets. Collaboration will therefore be key.

“With trade in Irish products and services to the UK increasing by 68 per cent over the past five years, to €1.29bn in 2016, Irish companies are uniquely positioned to provide a vital skills injection.

“Ireland has a competitive advantage as an innovation hub in the construction industry, with 76 per cent of Irish organisations feeling confident in their digital construction skills and knowledge.

“We encourage collaboration and are confident trade relationships between the UK and Ireland will deepen even further over the coming years.”

Ireland can plug UK construction industry’s digital skills gap
Enterprise Ireland’s Construction Adviser John Hunt

The UK’s Business Secretary Greg Clark, who launched the plan which was knocked down in the headlines because of the latest Royal Wedding announcement, said the UK’s workforce efficiency is “well below what can be achieved”.

Britain ranks fifth out of G7 industrial nations, behind Canada and Japan, on productivity hence the Office of Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) downgrade of the UK economic forecast last week after the Budget was announced. But Mr Clark said Britain has an opportunity to seize upon “a new Industrial Revolution”.

“This would be needed at any time, and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union makes it even more important.”

Improvements in productivity would, he said, lead to faster wage growth and more tax revenues for the Treasury.

His White Paper identified artificial intelligence, cleaner economic growth, electric and self-driving cars, and an aging society as the components of the new Industrial Revolution to which he referred.

Extra investment in physical and digital infrastructure, retraining workers in construction and digital skills, and greater spending on research and development (R&D) were all among the answers, it said. But businesses, academics and analysts complained of an absence of detailed policies to respond to the actual analysis.

Ireland can plug UK construction industry’s digital skills gap
Business, Energy and Industry Secretary Greg Clark

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said “the level of investment and ambition announced today, particularly relating to skills and how they are used in the workplace, is inadequate given the scale of the productivity challenge facing the UK”.

The Institute of Directors’ DG Stephen Martin said: “The measures in today’s industrial strategy could be the beginning of a bold, new approach to the economy, but only if what has been announced today is followed through, not just in this parliament, but over many parliaments to come.”

The Confederation of British Industry’s DG Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The hard work starts now. Today’s announcement must be the beginning of a strategic race, not a tactical sprint. And it needs to last.

“This is a time for consistency and determination, not perpetual change with the political winds. The creation of an independent council with teeth to monitor progress will help this.”

Competition

David Bailey, professor of Industry at Aston University welcomed the White Paper and the analysis questioned the effectiveness of the amounts allocated: “Given the scale of the challenge, investment of £725m (the Challenge Fund to boost innovation) is unlikely to be enough and the competition for cash will be high across a broad range of sectors”.

His announcement included the news that a major pharmaceutical company, MSD (Merck) will open a “worldleading” life-sciences hub in the UK and is seeking a site in London that will support 950 high-skilled jobs of which 150 will be new.

Last week the UK’s pharma sector lost thousands highly paid, highly skilled jobs with the news that the European Medicines Agency (above) will leave the UK because of Brexit, followed by thousands of researchers and support staff.


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