What’s does the future hold for careers in the scaffolding industry?

At a time when companies were already struggling to fill roles, the Covid pandemic has put extra stress on the industry, reflects Des Moore.

For a company that’s coming up to its 50th anniversary, TRAD Scaffolding has certainly seen its share of industry challenges. And I know we’re not alone in that. Over the past few years, I’ve been talking with lots of businesses in both scaffolding and the wider construction industry about how we encourage people to join the industry at a time when construction is vital to the economy – and also to support the ‘build, build, build’ New Deal strategy announced by Boris Johnson earlier this year.

Before this year, we were already experiencing issues with EU and other overseas workers deciding to return home, leaving significant gaps in the workforce. As we all know, training takes time – you can’t just replace a seasoned scaffolder with someone out of school, so it’s important that we are both bringing new talent into the business and able to recruit experienced professionals where necessary.

Of course, 2020 has thrown everything at us, with the pandemic halting work on many construction sites and projects experiencing downtime because of furlough or other restrictions. The subsequent and continued hit to the economy means that getting construction and infrastructure projects back on line is a priority – and with that comes a need for a competent and sustainable workforce.

We’ve heard a lot of warnings about a ‘lost generation’ – those young people who would have been coming out of school or college and looking for secure apprenticeships and jobs that give them useful skills to start their career.

That’s why the government has announced a number of measures to encourage employers to take on young people, including the Kickstart Scheme, which we’re currently investigating, working with the NASC as a gateway partner.

Alongside that, however, we’re continuing to invest in our existing apprenticeship scheme, and we believe this is one of the key ways to ensure a good supply of trained, reliable and skilled scaffolders into the future. TRAD Scaffolding has a history of recruiting and supporting young people, mentoring them to learn skills and get qualifications on the tools so they can progress their careers – this is exactly the route I took through the business, and TRAD Scaffolding’s Managing Director, Peter McShane also started with us as a trainee and has taken advantage of the mentoring and career opportunities we’ve created to help build his career. We have supported many people into long-term careers within the TRAD Group, and our low churn rate reflects this, with many staff having 30 years’ service or more. In fact, I’m heading for my own fourth decade with the business, having joined in 1971. 

Now more than ever, we need to create an environment where we can help young people prosper by giving them a career, not just a job. We want to find the right people with a great attitude – we can train for skills. Our ambition is to keep promoting and train from within. A focus on practical and personal attributes, and not just qualifications means that we always get the right people for the job, and that everyone has the same opportunity to progress and succeed. We currently have nine apprentices – eight on our scaffold apprenticeship programme, and one, Stephanie Betts, on our management trainee scheme. Stephanie is currently shortlisted for the Construction News Apprenticeship Award.

Alongside the more traditional entry into the industry, the TRAD Group is committed to hiring, mentoring and promoting everyone within the business, and we are committed to increasing the number of women in the company and giving them the same mentoring and opportunity to further their career. The nature of the industry means that only a few women choose to work on site, and one of the advantages of being a larger business is that we can offer roles in construction that cover a wide remit, including estimating, surveying, contracts and project management.  

By working closely with the Construction News Women in Construction scheme, we have been actively promoting construction and scaffolding as career paths by talking to young people in schools and colleges, taking part in debates, and ensuring that we offer a culture and environment that trains, supports and enables women to achieve everything they can in their career. To that end, we have always paid women the same as men for the same job, – I have never been able to understand why that shouldn’t be the case! Sadly that’s not what we see across the board, although improvements are being made. We also offer flexibility to both men and women to create an environment where, when sabbaticals or extended statutory leaves are required, we make it easy to return, so that we don’t lose the expertise and skills.

I believe that, as an industry, we need to widen our horizons if we are to find the workforce we need to fulfil our project opportunities, and if we are to position ourselves as a progressive, useful and interesting sector to work – a sector that appeals to everyone. We have a huge perception barrier to leap, but with small steps, commitment to opportunities for everyone and better engagement with those outside the industry, we stand a great chance of recruiting the best young people and experienced workers from all walks of life.