The building industry faces a crisis in recruitment unless it throws off its Auf Wiedersehn Pet image and rethinks safety, career development and equality
Construction minister Brian Wilson told delegates at the Contract Journal conference on recruitment and retention that the sector must recruit 300,000 more qualified people by 2006 to implement the biggest-ever public sector building programme.
But 90 per cent of construction firms are already finding it hard to recruit engineers, graduates and craft workers such as carpenters and electricians.
To add to the problem, the number of graduates applying for building-related courses is falling and colleges are having to close courses due to lack of funding.
Wilson said the industry only had itself to blame for its poor image with jobseekers and called for a culture change to overhaul the sector's image as an employer of last resort.
He also said the industry's safety record was unacceptable, with a report by the HSE showing that although deaths on site had fallen by 26 since a summit last year, last year's death toll was 79.
He called for an end to long hours working and a move away from casual work and the informal economy.
Wilson said the sector had to shed its macho image to attract women and ethnic minorities and that it should encourage more flexible working to attract women returners.
"You look for the easiest solution first and one of the easiest solutions is to open yourself up to the 50 per cent of the workforce you have cut yourself off from," said Wilson.
The minister's comments were reinforced by Sheila Hoile, director of training strategy at sector training body, the CITB.
She said companies needed to change perceptions about the sector by providing more positive work experience and by working more closely with education and training providers.
By Noel O'Reilly