The boss of one of the country’s largest housebuilders has called for more to be done to encourage young people into apprenticeships to help meet the demand for new homes in the coming years.
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, Jeff Fairburn, chief executive of Persimmon, said that attracting new entrants was the biggest problem facing the construction industry and that there needed to be an overhaul of the advice given to children at school to overcome misconceptions around apprenticeships and career options.
“People think it is only for practical skills or for people who were not particularly good at education. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t do A-levels, I didn’t go to university.”
Persimmon, Yorkshire’s biggest plc and headquartered on the outskirts of York, has seen an upsurge in the volume of work it does since the Government introduced the Help to Buy scheme to encourage people on to the property ladder, with the increased demand having necessitated a large-scale recruitment programme.
However, Mr Fairburn said that the construction industry was being done a disservice by not being presented as a viable industry to young people.
“The construction industry as a whole has struggled in recent years to attract new entrants into the industry,” he said.
“I think we could do with a lot more joined up thinking, through schools, to really showcase the kind of careers that are available to people.
“Young people generally do not see that as an option for them, some of those practical things are very suitable and provide good careers for people.
“I have been in the industry for a long time and there is an under supply of new people coming in.
“We have an ageing workforce and there is more people retiring than starting, it has been very difficult.”
Mr Fairburn said that the root of the problem lay in the way the industry is presented to young people from an early age.
“There is often a misconception about what an apprenticeship is. People think it is only for practical skills or for people who were not particularly good at education. It couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t do A-levels, I didn’t go to university.
“I consider what I did to be an apprenticeship, I trained to be a quantity surveyor. I think there is a misunderstanding about what is available and in breaking down the barriers.
“I don’t blame schools or the teachers, it has nothing to do with them, it is the system.
“It is the biggest problem for the industry. It is difficult to get young people on to schemes, we have gained traction with more mature people in terms of retraining them.
“I do not know what the answer is but the solution is definitely not there at the moment.
“There are far too many kids going into further education because they do not see any other option and they will be left behind if they don’t.
“It could not be more different.”
The vote to exit the European Union hit the value of housebuilding companies hard on the stock exchange and Persimmon was no different, with the value of shares plunging following June 23.
The value has begun to recover following a very positive set of results during the summer but remains below pre-referendum levels.
However, Mr Fairburn said the issue was not at the forefront of he and his team’s thinking.
“All business are concerned about their share prices and it should reflect the strength of the business, but this is a complete disconnect.
“We were surprised that there was such a reaction, across the whole sector. It is not something that concerns us in the long term.
“We focus on specifically running the business to the profitability and cash delivery that we set in out our 2012 plan. It is not fundamental to how the business operates.”