Summit Sets the Agenda for the Property & Construction Sector

Date: 22/05/2024
Author: Simon Cronin
Company: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Skills topped the agenda at Greater Manchester Chamber’s Property & Construction Summit at Emirates Old Trafford on 17th May. 

The event brought together leading figures in the industry to debate issues including the Construction and Skills Pipeline and Climate Change.

Stewart Grant, the Chamber’s Property & Construction Chair, opened the summit with the upbeat message that Greater Manchester’s economy was outperforming the rest of the UK and that although we “had been looking down the barrel of a recession, business is in recovery mode.”

Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara, Deputy Director of Research at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, gave an overview of the Property & Construction Sector, saying it was an “an extremely important sector and source of employment in our region” which contributed £205bn to the UK economy and £20bn to the North West economy. He added that in Greater Manchester 95,000 people were employed in the sector, which is made up of 19,000 businesses.

During the debate on the Construction and the Skills Pipeline, panellist Tom Higgins, Director, Laing O’Rourke, gave a stark warning that the construction industry was in danger of “falling over” due its ageing workforce.

He explained that the industry needed to move towards the use of MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) because of the resource and skills challenges facing it and said new skills were required to implement MMC.

He added: “Unless we do things differently, this industry will fall over. We haven’t got the people to do it. We need to start right now training people in the industry.”

He said he believed the problem was the way the sector was perceived in schools: “The frightening thing for me is that schools don’t talk about construction. Construction provides a wide diversity of careers. I don’t believe the schools know what a range of careers there are in construction. If children are not doing well, teachers may then talk about construction. It’s seen as a career of last resort, and it shouldn’t be.”

This problem was compounded, he claimed, by that fact that industry was expected to do the training itself: “Accountancy is taught in universities throughout the UK. I imagine that is not being paid for by the accountancy firms. So why should the construction industry pay?”

He pointed out that while much of the UK’s infrastructure needed to be replaced, this pipeline of projects could not be completed without more people coming into the construction industry.

“We need to be speaking to government about the fact that the industry can’t cope with what is in the pipeline. Hospitals, motorways, prisons and schools all need replacing. Infrastructure is falling around our ears. To renew all that we need the right people. Too many people are leaving and too few people are joining the industry.”

After the debate on the Construction and Skills Pipeline, delegates were able to attend one of three workshops on the topics of A Digital Future, Levelling Up and Future Proofing Our City and Town Centres.

The workshops were followed by a second panel discussion on the subject of ‘Climate Emergency Crisis or Opportunity?’ The panellists highlighted the many challenges climate change would bring, including rising temperatures and extreme weather events, but also the opportunity for our region to be a leader in sustainable innovation and adaptation.

In his keynote speech at the summit, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, set out the challenges and opportunities facing our area in the years ahead.

He said: “Greater Manchester is growing faster than the UK economy and is predicted to grow faster. We’ve not been able to say that in most of our lifetimes.”

And he emphasised it was not just the city centre that was growing: “The power of the city is beginning to benefit the surrounding towns. It is spreading to these other centres around the city region. The chief among them is Stockport. It’s the first part of our area to prove that it’s not city versus town.”

He highlighted how skills were being brought under local control through the Trailblazer Devolution Deal but pointed out technical education in the UK had been neglected for too long.

“Like many other things in this country, the skills system was fragmented in the 1980s,” he said, “so it’s hard for businesses to get what they need.”

Paying tribute to the work of “our Chamber” on skills, he added: “We were lucky that Clive and the Chamber had already done a lot of the work for us in the LSIP.”

In his closing remarks at the summit, Clive Memmott OBE, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber, said: “The devolution genie is out of the bottle and Greater Manchester is leading the way. It totally changes the way we go about things and the way decisions are made.”

He also returned to the theme of skills saying: “There needs to be an equal pathway between the technical and academic route. We gutted our technical education years ago and we have to put it right.”

Diane Elebert-Morgan, Property & Construction Group Manager, said: “It was wonderful to see so many industry leaders come together and debate the key issues of the sector. This was an exciting and engaging event which will set the agenda for the years ahead.

“There’s no doubt that the Property & Construction sector faces many challenges, not least the skills gap, but Greater Manchester is starting to meet these challenges by taking control of our skills system. We also benefit from having businesses committed to working together with the Mayor and education providers to tackle these issues.”