“Skills shortage” is something that I have become accustomed to hearing all too often over the past few years and even more so since the Brexit decision.
This opinion is voiced either in the newspapers, at networking events and while engaging with clients. So what is really going on and are we doing enough about resolving the issue?
Construction Skills Shortage and what is causing it?
The construction industry is one of the big players within the UK Economy, generating around £90bn year on year. It has around 2.9 million people working within it, which accounts for circa 11% of employment within the UK.
There is no doubt that since the crash of 2008 there have been fewer people joining the Property and Construction industry, as they are securing employment in more “stable” industries.
In addition to the potential loss of migrant workers post Brexit and economic instability in the UK impacting recruitment within construction. We also find ourselves with 27% of construction workers over the age of 50 and approaching the retirement age. With a lacking pipeline of people joining the industry and an ageing workforce, we will find that the skills gained by the older workers will retire with them reinforcing the shortage.
8% (175,000) of workers in the industry are EU nationals, with Brexit slowly creeping up on us, we need to look at how this is going to affect the industry. What are senior figures within the industry doing to ensure that migrant workers are protected? Will we be looking at the potential of an Australian based points system to ensure that we have skilled migrants within the UK? Getting the right deal to protect the industry is paramount, otherwise we could see the UK’s £500bn infrastructure project slowly coming to a standstill.
The issue is not just with the blue collar labour roles, but also the professional white collar side of the business. From speaking to our clients we find that the need to actively headhunt and keep in touch with our network is more important than ever. The majority of vacancies our clients are looking to fill have become harder to satisfy, due to the candidates lacking in the correct skills, qualifications or experience.
With the demand for commercial space and housing across the country increasing, the requirement for staffing, skills and experience within the industry has never been greater.
Are we doing enough about this?
Irrespective of a poor pipeline of workers into the industry, are employers doing enough to help the situation?
On average a larger proportion of construction companies do not provide training compared to other industries, relying on apprenticeship providers to carry out the training, only to put apprentices back with other job seekers once trained. Apprentices are therefore facing a problem of not having the experience to match the training.
The construction industry needs to make a commitment to apprentices making the construction industry more desirable to younger people over other options. Highlighting a clear line of opportunity and earning potential once training has been completed is paramount.
Companies such as Berkeley Homes, Redrow and Kier having specific departments set up for apprentices and training. On the Thames Gateway Project, construction firms have been asked to commit to 1 in 50 places to be given to apprentices. CrossRail and other major organisations have set out plans alike.
A clear commitment from both the public and private sector on projects can help them identify skills gaps early enough to ensure suitable people are trained and are available, ready for when they are needed. Rather than just employing ‘value for money’ skilled workers when recruiting simply adding fuel to the fire.
Closer alliances between businesses and colleges can ensure that students are being educated on the career options available in construction and taught the correct skills to ensure up-coming shortages alleviated.
In addition, other options at grass roots level could be, taking candidates from across the property sector working in different functions such as Customer Services, Administration and Sales etc. We regularly meet exceptional candidates who are motivated to working in construction that could bridge this gap in the short to medium term, with a bit of development and training from the construction industry.
More experienced professionals, with project or contracts management experience from other industries making the transition over into construction, with the right support could make the transition into construction far more swiftly, helping with the issue from the top down
As an industry, we need to work together to make an effort to appeal to both ends of the spectrum. On one side, guiding people to choose an apprenticeship/training in construction with a clear pathway for personal and professional development in the industry.
The other side, conveying to the construction industry the long term value in employing and training apprentices and other experienced professionals to assist with the skills shortage.
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