Scottish construction sites facing skills shortages ‘on a daily basis’

Ross Mickel
Ross Mickel

Skills shortages in the Scottish construction sector are becoming more acute as trained workers leave for higher wages overseas, a senior executive within the industry has warned.

Ross Mickel, who runs the family owned housebuilder Mactaggart & Mickel’s timber frame business and a member of its group board, told The Herald that the issue was “rising up our risk register incredibly quickly”.

Among the factors the sector is facing up to are an ageing workforce, difficulty attracting new entrants and coping with the gaps left by the thousands of people who left the industry during the financial crisis and recession.

Mr Mickel, part of the fourth generation of the family to be involved in the company, said traditionally the business has been able to bring through its own apprentices and also attract other people from across the industry.

He told the newspaper: “But more recently it has been a struggle to get the level of person or the actual criteria that you want filled.

“There is certainly a shortage of skills in trade and we are seeing that on sites on a daily basis.”

Mr Mickel said the company is able to cope by moving people around to where they are needed but it was likely to have to start making more use of sub-contractors to meet its growth plans.

He said: “We are fortunate that we have a lot of our trades in-house so can work sites and move people around. They don’t have to be on one site the entire time.

“We don’t use sub-contractors much more than we used to but it is becoming more of a necessity.”

At the moment the company has 11 apprentices on site with people being trained as joiners, brickies, painters, plumbers and roughcasters.

The company’s current chief executive Ed Monaghan, also chairman of Construction Scotland, started his long association with the company as an apprentice painter.

Mr Mickel says “a lot of effort” goes into the company’s apprenticeship programme and ways to allow people to progress through the business.

He added: “It is very core to future proofing the business.

“I’m fourth generation and if we don’t recruit apprentices to work through fields then we will be left with not the core that we have currently.”

The loss of thousands of construction jobs during the recession along with the age profile of the remaining workforce is further adding to skills problems.

Mr Mickel said: “Not that we have a demographic issue in the company but if you look around the industry there is a lot of people who are going to be leaving it soon or have left in the recession. Trying to backfill that is very hard.”

Although some trades people have been attracted to the south of England or overseas by the promise of higher wages, Mr Mickel is concerned construction is also suffering from an image problem.

He said: “The trades seem to have been lost in the last seven years. When I was growing up we would have conversations about brickies and plumbers.

“Now when you read the papers it is the next generation of people inventing a game for console or a software billionaire or something like that.

“There is not the good stories about the profession can be. There is still a great deal of craft skill involved in building a house and our guys take a lot of pride in it.”

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