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    Beating the Construction Industry Skills Shortage

    The construction industry is currently wrestling with an extensive skills shortage. Unfortunately, it looks like things will get worse before they get better.

    There are several mega construction projects already underway in the UK, with others expected to begin shortly, such as the expansion of the national grid and the construction of the Lower Thames Crossing. It’s estimated that the sector will need a quarter of a million extra workers by 2028 to meet the anticipated levels of work.

    As a result, the industry is now staring down the barrel of a war for talent more intense than anything that has come before. While there are several things the industry can do to tackle the problem, it needs to take action now.


    What’s causing the skills shortage?

    A core issue is that the industry is losing skilled older workers but isn’t replacing them at the same rate. The average age of a UK construction worker is currently over 50, and the rate of retirement is accelerating, robbing the industry of critical leadership and expertise.

    Unfortunately, recruiting new workers into the industry is increasingly challenging. Further education colleges have historically provided the lion’s share of construction training to 16-19-year-olds, but between 2010 and 2020, these saw real-terms financial cuts of 14-19%. Meanwhile, apprentice success in construction roles dropped by 20% between 2018 and 2021, and the number of adult apprentices has fallen by 27% since 2016. Indeed, apprenticeships are currently only producing around 12,000 qualified construction workers per year – far fewer than are needed to narrow the skills gap.

    An exacerbating issue is that the industry has an image problem among younger workers. The sector is too often stereotyped as a poorly remunerated area. While Gen-Z workers regularly rank work-life balance and well-being as the most important factors when choosing a new role, in a recent report only 40% agreed that employees’ mental health, personal relationships and social activities are well-managed in the construction industry.

    The under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the sector is also a deterrent, as is the industry’s reputation for being a heavy polluter. More than a quarter of Gen-Z workers rate the importance of pursuing a career that positively impacts climate change at 9/10 or more – but 37% believe that the construction industry has a negative effect on the environment.

    The sector is also having to adapt to rapid changes which are placing further pressure on businesses and workforces to adjust to new ways of doing things. Industry-wide concerns such as sustainability have increased the demand for workers with sustainability skills and are forcing many businesses to make changes more rapidly than skilled workers are becoming available to implement them.


    The solutions

    Although these are profound difficulties, they can be solved. In the long-term, making it easier for young workers to enter the sector is a critical priority. The government needs to take decisive action to ensure more training is available, and the industry needs to work closely with further education institutions to improve the number and quality of vocational training programs and apprenticeships. Apprentices also need to be supported to ensure that higher numbers succeed and go on to have productive careers in the industry.

    The sector also needs to take steps to improve its image. Hiring more women and ethnic minorities would send a powerful message to those worrying that the industry isn’t diverse or inclusive enough. The sector must also emphasise that it is an important part of global efforts to improve emissions and sustainability.

    The longer-term changes will take time. In the meantime, the sector needs to find more efficient ways to train and upskill its existing workforce so that it can use new technologies more effectively, boosting worker productivity and helping mitigate labour shortages.

    Intelligent recruitment will also be critical to ensuring workers are efficiently placed across the sector, maximising the skills that are available right now. Companies that can most reliably hire personnel who are the right fit will find it considerably easier to make headway than their rivals.

    As someone who has spent decades recruiting in the sector, I’ve seen the effect of the skills shortage first-hand, and I know the difference the right (or wrong) hire can make to a team. As the war for talent intensifies, I expect the role of recruiters to be critical to company successes in the sector.

    If you’re interested in finding out more about how I can help you find the skilled personnel you need, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


    David Perdoni.

    david.perdoni@aylinwhite.com  |  +44 (0) 7961 275 312