The skills shortage – training the next generation

National Housing Maintenance Forum (NHMF) advisor Andrew Burke outlines the organisation’s mission to improve property performance and promote best practice to the next generation of asset managers as they begin their careers in social housing

As one of the social housing sector’s leading sources of good practice in the field of maintenance and asset management, the NHMF has always had a clear remit to help social landlords be efficient, effective and economic in complying with their health and safety requirements. However, with the challenges our members are experiencing in recruiting skilled staff into the sector, we cannot ignore the increasing need to provide easily accessible training tools for new staff to ensure they have access to key resources relating to best practice, legislation and compliance.

Those of us working in repairs and maintenance will be all too aware that the UK’s housing stock relies on a competent workforce. Many of our members have experienced first-hand the rising skills shortage caused by multiple factors including the potential impact of Brexit on our migrant workforce, a decline in the number of apprenticeships and an ageing workforce. According to the latest FMB State of Trade survey, the skills shortage is continuing to have a significant impact on the industry with 64 per cent of construction employers struggling to hire bricklayers and 59 per cent struggling to hire carpenters. Looking ahead, the skills gap is having a knock-on effect on driving up wages and materials costs with the Farmer Review predicting the construction labour force will decline by 20-25 per cent within a decade and the CITB forecasting that average construction employment is expected to grow at just 0.6 per cent per year between 2017-2021 as a result of a record low level of new entrants joining the sector to replace the 700,000 retiring workers.

Taking all these factors into consideration, the need to provide rigorous training in best practice and compliance for those working in repairs and maintenance is imperative. With a commitment to providing up to date, free resources to asset managers and contractors across the social housing sector, the NHMF has always recognised that cultivating new talent is key to our combined success.

Advice on best practice should be a key part of their induction process. Landlords wanting to train new staff in their own compliance priorities and procedures can access the free best practice resources on our website which provide a useful starting point for any organisation looking to review its policy or agree compliance priorities with senior management teams. This is becoming increasingly important as the government implements the recommendations from the Hackitt Review in its ‘Building a Safer Future’ proposals. This aspect of asset management and maintenance has become more important and is likely to remain so with increasing scrutiny by the Regulator of Social Housing. It will no longer be sufficient for social landlords to have ticked all the boxes. They will need to demonstrate that they have assessed the risks for their residents and that they are actively managing and reducing those risks.

We also encourage new starters to make full use of our best practice guidelines so they can review their organisation’s current practice and propose possible improvements or make use of any free resources that could be used as part of their annual CPD training.

As an organisation, the NHMF is committed to supporting training and development and ensuring we recognise success across the industry. Our annual conference in January will be exploring this in more detail with the aim of providing innovative solutions to tackle the challenges associated with the ongoing skills shortage. We actively encourage a collaborative approach to common problems so we can all learn from others’ success and share examples of good practice. The NHMF Awards in Birmingham includes a ‘Best Apprentice Scheme’ category to reward organisations who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to nurturing in-house skills. In addition, we continue to provide training sessions and seminars throughout the year to support both clients and contractors to continue learning.

As clients and contractors explore new ways to address the skills shortage, the need to focus on how we can all develop strategies to harness new talent is likely to remain a hot topic. Whatever the future holds, we have a collective remit to attract, train and retain staff and it is clear that this should be at the heart of all our agendas.

The NHMF hosts a range of events throughout the year including the NHMF Maintenance Conference and Awards in Birmingham from 21-22 January 2020. Visit for more information