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Councils seek skills gap role

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The Local Government Association (LGA) is seeking a greater role for councils in helping to tackle the growing shortage of skilled construction workers.

The LGA wants the government to work with the construction industry, local authorities, schools and colleges to develop a national ‘Skills to Build' strategy, delivered locally through the devolution process.

Devolving careers advice, post-16 and adult skills budgets and powers to local areas, it would allow councils, schools, colleges and employers to work together to help unemployed residents and young people develop the vital skills to build, the LGA argues.

New analysis by the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, reveals a growing mismatch between the construction industry's increasing demand for skills and a falling number of people gaining construction qualifications. The skills shortage threatens the government's pledge to build 275,000 affordable homes by 2020, councils fear.

While the construction industry's forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54% from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities.

There were 58% fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

Cllr Peter Box, chair of the LGA's housing board, said: "For too long we've trained too many hairdressers and not enough bricklayers. Too few apprentices are getting the construction skills to build the homes and roads our local communities need and developers are struggling to recruit skilled labour to build new homes.

"Industry is clear that skills gaps are one of their greatest barriers to building. If we are to see the homes desperately needed across the country built and jobs and apprenticeships created, councils must be given a leading role.

"Skills demand will always vary significantly across the country. For example, the Northwest is desperate for bricklayers while the West Midlands have a higher demand for wood trades and interior fitters.

"Councils are best-placed to understand the needs of their residents and local economies but have no influence over skills training and employment support in their area.

"In return for increased funding and powers, councils, schools, colleges and employers could work together to reduce unemployment, close this widening construction skills gap and ramp up housebuilding."

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