Skills investment aims to help boost Black Country’s construction sector

Construction businesses across the Black Country looking to deliver upcoming infrastructure projects are being encouraged to invest in the future of their workforce.

The construction sector is one of the strongest in the region, accounting for over 36,000 jobs across 3,750 businesses, and has already seen £1.6bn of investment across housing, commercial and industrial projects.

However, with a further £1.1bn of work planned for the region, including HS2 and the expansion of the Midland Metro, there is concern that Black Country businesses need to do more to upskill their staff to ensure they remain competitive to win work.

Nearly £3m alone has already been spent upskilling workers in the region’s construction sector through the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme, funded by the European Social Fund and secured via the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Over 3,000 employees have already benefited from the programme, led by Calderdale College in partnership with a pool of specialist local training providers.

Sajid Butt, Skills Support for the Workforce’s Senior Development Manager, overseeing delivery of the programme said: “The Black Country’s construction sector is set for year-on-year growth of 1.8 per cent, with many major projects in the pipeline.

“The changes we’ve seen in the industry recently show that a skilled workforce is more vital than ever to future-proof a business, and as well as recruiting, it’s fundamental that businesses ensure existing staff have the skills to respond to change and capitalise on new market opportunities.

“By working closely with the Black Country LEP SSW can offer bespoke training courses to businesses, which gives a better chance for them to fulfil their ambitions and remain resilient to industry shifts.”

The courses cover a number of themes, such as technical, leadership and customer facing, and include a range of occupational-based programmes – all of which focus on improving workplace productivity and raising prospects for business growth.

Businesses benefiting from the funded training include Walsall-based Simco Building Solutions Ltd, which has established itself as a leading supplier to the construction industry, particularly in fast-track building methods.

The company has developed a strong reputation for high standards of excellence in the sector and has an ambitious strategy focused around innovation and expansion into new markets, requiring them to scale up rapidly in a sustainable manner.

Through SSW its employees undertook a programme of training to upskill its workforce, reducing their reliance on sub-contracted labour and raising the knowledge base and professional competencies of staff.

Jolie Taylor, SHEQ Coordinator for Simco Building Solutions Ltd, commented: “We strive to meet the demands of the industry to constantly achieve great things. We have a strong workforce, however finding workers with the right skills is often a challenge and presents a huge barrier for us.

“One of our key objectives in our business plan was to multi-skill employees. This was to help increase the productivity and flexibility of the workforce, as well as reduce our reliance on sub-contract labour.

“The training has helped us to achieve these aims and our site operatives now hold nationally-recognised qualifications which have helped us to progress the development of low carbon homes, helping to fill the housing gap in the Black Country.”

After seeing the positive effects of the training, the firm plans to offer further employees access to training through SSW.

Sajid Butt adds: “When you hear how businesses like Simco are benefiting, it shows that investing in workforce development is a smart move for any business wanting to secure its future, remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve.

“We’ve made great headway in working in the construction sector to ensure the workforce - at all tiers of a business - have the right skills.

“But to make this happen, an integrated end-to-end support programme is needed to meet the future skills and wider development needs of the construction industry as a whole.”

A fund close to £2m is remaining for Black Country SMEs to access this timely booster for business growth. Those interested in applying must act quickly as the Skills Support for the Workforce programme currently finishes in July 2018.

For more information and to apply for funding, please click here

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