Now is the time to support the next generation and build the skills and talent pool we all need

2/9/20: As TClarke makes its own commitment clear, by taking on a 2020 intake of apprentices for its industry leading apprenticeship scheme, which currently has 180 apprentices, Group CEO Mark Lawrence calls for that commitment to be shared and recognised.

(this article was featured in Construction Enquirer yesterday)

It is highly unusual for me to make what could be deemed a slightly political or controversial comment and this isn’t the beginning of a new outspoken approach from me, however, I am going to take a moment now to speak about our commitment to apprenticeships in this year of the Coronavirus and how I believe that leaders across our marketplace must now show personal leadership in ensuring we build the skills we need.

We are building skills for the future of UK construction

This year has been different for all of us. The challenges of the virus are exceptional in every way. and so it would have been easy for TClarke to say ‘this year, we will not take on any apprentices.’ No one would have blamed us. So what?

But we did not take that easy route. We showed our commitment – we showed our willingness to invest in our future, in our new apprentices future, in the futures of 180 apprentices across the Group and in our industry’s future. 

All construction leaders recognise that the skills challenge is urgent 

All the leaders across construction and our client base recognise how acute and serious the skills challenge is. We talk about it, we share our concerns about it. But what happens next?

Will you recognise our commitment to creating skills for the future?

I have a direct and frank question for our marketplace and for those who have the power to make choices: “Does commitment like this carry weight with you?” When it comes to choosing partners for a project – does this matter in practical terms? Or is it in truth irrelevant to the choices you make?

Can we see public statements of support turned into practical choices?

The reason why I have chosen this moment to make this clear call is simple. Now is a time when our industry has to look ahead. We have to address our skills challenge ourselves. As we move through the challenges of the virus and Brexit and build for our country’s future, we have two choices – and the stresses of these current challenges bring them into highlight.

We have an urgent need for more skills. We need to build those skills right here – right now. We also have a period of pressure on budgets. So do you – as a client, a principal contractor and a decision maker – choose those partners who are building skills and investing in the resources you know you need – or do you choose those who are not? 

Active recognition is the key to future skills

Either our marketplace actively recognises the value of skills and the creation of a talent pool or it does not. Now is the time. If it does not, then contract by contract, project by project, the construction world and the UK supply chain will fight on price and keep on grinding downwards. The result will be that for all the billions of pounds invested by the nation in the coming months and years to build the homes and infrastructure, there will be little return in terms of skills, and quality jobs for the future. 

But if our market and client base can make a positive choice, then not only will companies like TClarke, who have the strength and systems to provide high quality apprenticeships and skills, do the right thing – but others will be encouraged to do the same.

Proper training takes years. It requires quality infrastructure to deliver. Today as we take on apprentices and kit them out with their gear for the first time, we are investing for years ahead, when Brexit and we hope, the virus too, will be receding in the rear view mirror. We all know this – so let’s act on it.

Taking a lead in this provides real satisfaction

This is time to decide and I have chosen to speak out because it is such a positive decision and one which as a leader you can feel real satisfaction in making. Today as I welcome young people here in London to our business, I’ll say a few words about our company and my own journey, which began like theirs, with a TClarke apprenticeship. I know that we could have denied them this opportunity – but I know we have done the right thing. 

For all our companies, our whole industry and our country itself, whatever your political views, there is no doubt in my mind that this is not just right. This is necessary – and this is not something that we can delay until the market changes. It has to be now. It is, in my view, a question of leadership.