Qualified operator shortage leaves plant owners suffering

Fraser Dykes

By Fraser Dykes, Vice President of the Scottish Plant Owners Association and Director at AMD Contract Services Ltd, who says action must be taken now to attract the quality and quantity of people needed for the
Scottish construction industry to flourish in the future.

WITH the recession starting in 2008, and the following meltdown in the construction industry affecting  private house builders in particular, the downsizing of many operated plant hire companies was an unfortunate inevitability.

While some went to the wall altogether, others had to lose valuable and experienced employees to necessary pay offs/redundancies, leaving no option but for these men and women to look elsewhere for work and not necessarily in the construction industry.

Now, having had a taste of working in different environments (perhaps with clean, warm conditions and regular hours), who can blame them for losing interest in coming back to operating heavy plant, especially considering all the certification and bureaucracy which has evolved in the interim? And that’s before you mention the cost involved to get recertified for doing what, in many cases, these operators have done all their working lives.

This bureaucracy is a bad situation for employers too, as without the certification they can’t put an operator on a construction site. All concerned are now in a no-win situation; the employer can’t give them wages because they can’t work without the ticket, and the operator can’t afford the training without the wages to pay for it.

All in all, it’s a dire situation when people want to work but can’t afford to. Worse still, with all due respect, the construction industry, at site labour level, has never attracted a high level of academics, myself included, so some of these tests are just beyond some people when they do get the opportunity to sit them.

Now that we have an upturn in the industry and a shortage of good, well trained operators, how do we remedy this?

As an employer, one of my main priorities would be to get hire rates increased to allow us to pay good wages for good people and to do away with zero hour contracts, giving operators the encouragement and security of full time employment.

Also, the CITB, in my opinion, definitely need to simplify re-entry into the CPCS and NVQ Card Schemes.

Another major issue is attracting young people behind the levers. You would think this shouldn’t be too big a problem as come Christmas Day most households with young children crave the plastic Tonka truck or toy excavator or bulldozer.

It is my opinion that construction should become part of the school curriculum as without the construction industry the world comes to a stop.

Something we do in my own business, AMD Contract Services Ltd, and are passionate about is CITB apprenticeship schemes for fitters and plant operators alike.

At present 10% of our 60-strong workforce are apprentices. If there are around 100,000 construction workers across Scotland, imagine the benefit to all concerned and what it would mean if 10% of that workforce were apprentices. A qualified construction industry for the future. Job sorted!

An issue that would arise from this suggestion is the lack of capacity our colleges have for construction apprentices.

The authorities need to look harder at this, as they would definitely be useful courses with long-term job prospects.

You can be rest assured the Scottish Plant Owners Association as an organisation is lobbying the Scottish government on these very crucial issues. For those at the CITB with the UK Contractors Group  recommending the recognition of the likes of NPORS (National Plant Operators Registration Scheme) this may waken them up to look at simplifying tests and reducing he costs.

Overall, the future for the construction and heavy plant industries looks healthier than it has for many a year.

If we can balance and resolve the issues of employing qualified, experienced operators at rates they’re happy to turn out to work for, without compromising safety and quality or risk returning to the bad old days, the future, in my view, can only get better and brighter.