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: Skill shortages force builders to bring in outside workers.

Byline: Barry Turnbull

A HUGE skills gap is threatening Merseyside's ability to cash in on a snowballing construction boom.

Flourishing regeneration projects and the thriving housing market are creating thousands of job opportunities - many of them being taken up by people who live outside the area.

Skilled construction industry workers in the area are now at a premium with many more needed to cope with the billion pounds plus of work ongoing and in the pipeline around Merseyside.

Figures from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) show that 1,000 new workers a year are needed to be recruited just to keep pace with those leaving the industry, never mind the growth element.

In the coming years projects to be undertaken include: Liverpool city centre shopping developments (pounds 750m); Local authority housing stock (pounds 100m); Housing Corporation (pounds 120m); Schools contracts (pounds 600m); Hospitals (pounds 70m); Transport (pounds 70m).

In addition, Merseyside's Special Investment Areas, funded by the Objective 1 programme will require substantial labour resources.

Already, 78pc of the region's employers are experiencing difficulties in recruiting staff such as bricklayers, electricians, joiners and plumbers.

Steve Rotherham, construction specialist for the Greater Merseyside Learning and Skills Council, says the shortfall is difficult to estimate: ``The situation is serious especially bearing in mind the amount of people that are needed just to stand still, never mind taking into account the growth in the industry over the next few years.

``A number of factors have combined to bring this about and this includes the amount of new work and the fact that less people were trained and apprenticed when times were not so good.

``One of the ways of addressing this is by increasing the number of training places over the next 18 months.

``You only have to go to some of the construction sites at the moment to see the amount of people arriving in vans from elsewhere.''

Statistics have been compiled by the Learning and Skills Council from various sources, including the CITB, and published in its Skills Assessment for Greater Merseyside document.

At the moment there are currently 2,500 students enrolled on further education courses across Merseyside involving bricklaying, joinery, plumbing, electrical work and management and clerical skills.

The Learning and Skills Council says it is imperative that local people have the chance of benefiting from the construction boom, particularly bearing in mind the thrust from the Objective 1 programme which is specifically designed to increase local employment prospects.

Mike Turner, area manager of lowcost housing specialist Lovell, said: ``A lot of the skilled people have drifted out of the industry and they are not being replaced by new younger blood.

``It is OK people asking whether we use local labour but if it is not there what can you do? In the housing sector this is going to come to a head shortly because of all the local authority stock transfers.

``We work with the Learning and Skills Council and local schools to get people interested but it is a struggle.''

But it is not only construction that is suffering. Skills gaps are emerging in the tourism sectors and transportation.

According to the LSC's assessment document, of the 10,000 vacancies on Merseyside, 3,800 are hard to fill and 2,000 relate to skill shortages. It is estimated that 1,300 local firms have identified a skills gap in their businesses.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2002
Words:565
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