Construction Industry Skills Shortage?
How do we fix the skills shortage in the construction industry?
As National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, Joint MD Craig Sanders takes a look at the growing problem of Construction Industry skills shortage. Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to Craig talk to FixRadio about the problem, and how important it is to get new blood in to the industry.
Why is the construction sector important?
Construction contributes more than £100 billion to the UK economy and represents over 7% of total GDP. When you consider businesses that support UK construction – tools and fixings suppliers, like Protrade – plus plant hire companies, builders’ merchants and any other construction related firms, you could easily double this figure. The construction segment is huge and vital for the UK economy, which almost certainly explains why the government has consistently stated that construction should continue throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns.
Build, Build, Build!
With the coronavirus pandemic seriously affecting the UK economy, Boris Johnson has pledged to ‘build our way out of the economic crisis’ – earmarking extra spending for schools, hospitals and infrastructure – to get things going again. When you also consider the UK ‘housing crisis’ and central governments easing of planning rules, to boost the number of affordable homes being built, future opportunities in the construction segments are significant. Compare this to other sectors like retail, hospitality, or the travel industry – all of which are currently taking a pasting, heightened by Covid-19 – construction trades are a ‘good bet’ at the moment… and in the future.
What is the problem?
There has been a shortage of skilled construction workers for a number of years now, with an ageing UK construction workforce – more than 20% are over 50 years old and a staggering 15% are in their sixties. As plasterers, joiners, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers retire – to name just a handful of vital skilled trades – the same percentage of young people are not entering these professions. Coupled with this, the effects of Brexit where migrant workers have returned to their home countries due to uncertainty, the skills shortage problem is getting bigger!
I recently saw a statistic of 18 – 24 year olds looking for job prospects – only 3% searched for construction related jobs. Why is this? I would say that in today’s digital world, where young people’s lives are based around the internet and smart devices – the thought of manual work in a site environment probably never even enters their minds. When you consider the endless opportunities that exist in the construction industry, the lack of interest from young adults is both surprising and ridiculous.
Is the apprenticeship scheme a solution?
Although the government offers grants and financial incentives for employers to take on apprentices, the key is to somehow get the message out there to young adults, to want to have a career in the construction sector. It’s hard for school-leavers currently, exasperated by the recent situation with Covid-19. Some might decide to go to university, accompanied with big fees nowadays. Others may choose the apprenticeship route where they can learn and train for a specific job, get hands-on real-life experience, receive a salary, gain a qualification, and assuming they embrace the opportunity provided – eventually secure a full-time job in a buoyant and growing industry.
I, for one, believe that the apprentice route is the obvious path for getting young adults into construction – but going back to my earlier point, how do we get the message out there to school-leavers, to want to have a career in the construction sector?
How do we create a desire to want to work in construction?
The obvious way to do this, is to promote ‘working in the construction industry’ at an earlier age – in our schools or part of the national curriculum – to eventually channel school-leavers into the construction sector. We also need to raise the profile and image of working in construction. It’s fair to say that many people outside the industry have a stereotypical perception of construction workers, that are totally inaccurate and unfounded today. Could this poor perception lead parents to direct their children down alternative paths, that they deem more suitable?
“Elevating the image of working in construction, emphasising its importance to the UK economy and highlighting the endless opportunities within the construction sectors, are paramount”.
Leaving school can be a confusing mixture of emotions, as youngsters step out of the comfortable environment, they’ve been in for pretty much their entire lives. It can be incredibly daunting for many young adults, so direction and guidance is essential. The UK government have set various targets to invest and build, without addressing the skills shortage required to make it happen and allow these targets to actually be met. The construction industry needs talented youngsters – schools and associated advisory services, need to recognise what the construction industry has to offer, in terms of a sustainable and rewarding career choice. Unless this happens, the skills shortage will only get worse.