It's not all doom and gloom

By Peter Owen on Feb 1, 13 03:35 PM in Construction

It's been a gloomy start to 2013 for the construction industry, particularly for contractors based in the West Midlands.

According to the Construction Skills Network (CSN) report by training organisation CITB-ConstructionSkills, the region will see a decline in construction output of 1.4 per cent annually between now and 2017, the worst outlook in the country.

The decline is even steeper, some 10.9 per cent, for those working outside the public housing sector.

As a result of the decline in workload, employment is also set to contract. The survey predicts a fall of 2.8 per cent every year over the next five years. In 2013, allegedly just 0.5 per cent of employment in the region will come from the sector.

Against this backdrop, Willmott Dixon has invested £1m in the 4Life academy in Aston, Birmingham.

The name 4Life is deliberate. As well as training our own people, we'll be providing opportunities for the wider community to develop skills in areas such as plumbing, electrics, renewable technologies, health and safety and supervisor skills. We'll also be hosting community programmes, DIY sessions and even courses covering key basics like CV writing.

So why, in a depressed market, are we taking this leap of faith?

There are two reasons. Firstly, quite simply, we still struggle to find skilled tradespeople, even in this climate. Skilled people are efficient people, and with the focus on driving down costs, this is fundamental to our business model.

Secondly, to invest and develop our staff and the communities we work in. As a privately-owned company, our core values are people and communities and the academy is just one way of putting those principles into practice with a facility that will benefit 2,000 people a year.

We're also confident, despite the doom and gloom, that things will pick up. Just do the maths:

The population is increasing, we need more schools; we are living longer, we need more healthcare facilities; there is a country-wide shortage of new homes, we need more housing - something that is now being addressed and probably why our housing division is taking on new people by the week.

Although it has retrenched, a growing and needy population means the public sector simply cannot shut up shop. And neither can we.

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