Scaling the Summit: Skills topped the agenda at Greater Manchester Chamber’s Property and Construction Summit 2024

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.”

Stewart, who is also a consultant with Poole Dick – Construction Management Consultancy addressed the room and started with a useful comparison of where we are now with where we left off 5 years ago when the forum last met.

‘’At that time, Brexit was looming, and we were unsure about its impact. As a nation, we’re probably all still unsure about its impact, some 4 and ½ years after we left the EU. But that’s another story!

The past few years have witnessed a backdrop of unprecedented political turmoil and instability, clear evidence of the impact of climate change engulfing us, economic shocks, and social unrest both globally and at home. To say nothing of a global pandemic. Not good news really?

Yet in some ways, that pretty gloomy context has been the catalyst for change that society and certainly our industry needed. In communication technology alone, those circumstances catapulted us forward 10/15 years in the last couple of years.

Business is in recovery mode and here are just a few stats to put that in context (courtesy of Greater Manchester Business Board);

 In those last 5 years or so, the Greater Manchester economy has grown in real terms by

50%, outpacing UK growth of 33% over the same period.

 In the last decade, Greater Manchester has had the highest rate of productive growth in any

part of the UK, inc London.

 Greater Manchester ranks in the top 5 of nearly all of the 12 Real Estate, Development, and Investment sectors (and comes 1st in half of those), according to CBRE’s ‘Which City? Which Sector?’ report mid-last year.

”As we know, Greater Manchester punches above its weight and this time next year, the Trailblazer devolution deal negotiated by Mayor Andy Burnham will be in place giving Greater Manchester greater autonomy in its public sector spending. If you were to look around the Greater Manchester region and compare it with 5 years ago, you’d see massive changes in the skyline of the built environment. It’s almost unrecognisable. Deloitte’s Annual Crane Survey reinforces that. With the above in mind, maybe for those visiting Manchester for the first time, it would be easy to look around and think, wow – they’ve got it sussed!

But we know it’s not as easy as that. We understand only too well how challenging doing business in our sector and industry is. We know day to day, there are too many obstacles and roadblocks holding back our ability and confidence to invest in growth. But there’s one thing for sure. Wherever there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity and would you ever want to be anywhere other than Greater Manchester to kick down those hurdles and make the most of the opportunities? As a region, we’ve got the tee shirt when it comes to resilience and tenacity in just making things happen.”

So, what does need to happen to help with the skills shortage: here we summarise points raised and commented on during the Property and Construction Summit:

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.”

In his keynote speech at the summit, Andy Burnham, newly re-elected 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 that 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.”

Back to Stewart, he’s been delighted with the overall feedback and response to the Summit. The Property and Construction Group now have some key strategic actions to follow up on and push the agenda forward over the next year.

If you want to get more involved with the work of the Chamber or enquire about membership, please contact Stewart at

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