Construction - Shortage in the Workforce

WO-MEN WORKING signConstruction relies heavily on its workforce more than most other industries, it is a major sector of the UK economy generating around £90 billion annually. With the welcome increase of construction work that is presently happening workloads are rising faster than the worker pool. Agency Central states that a huge skill shortage could be on the horizon, with the current situation only looking to get worse through 2017.

As I see it we have three large resource-pools that we could tap into to help alleviate the skills shortage issue.

Firstly we have the youth of today, in our schools and colleges, eager to learn. However they are not provided with enough information to help guide them into construction related careers. Along with this there is the stigma of doing manual work and the image of 'dirty' work that is underpaid. These matters need to be swiftly addressed and careers in the construction industry promoted. This particular pool of people is key to lessen the impact of skills shortages.

Then we have women, can they help fill the gap? There is a long held taboo about women within the construction industry, they are not strong enough/are weak, they will get hurt, they don't have the right skill sets etc. Being a woman in this particular industry has made me acutely aware how difficult it is to start a career. Despite often having the right set of skills women are often side stepped as they are considered the main child care resource within the family. Having been asked at several interviews if I had children has always been an issue for me. Would men be asked the same question? We need to change perceptions, many large organisations are at fault here, only looking to ensure the post on offer is filled with the most cost effective solution (less days off due to children, pregnancy etc.).

Past evidence has shown that women can step up to the mark; for example during the first and second world wars women had to take on the roles that men has previously held. Much of this was heavy work like farming and industry, including munitions factories, which was highly dangerous work. Along with this, women have mastered technology based roles and are renowned for their skill levels in technical and senior management roles. Plus, with health and safety improvements over the past few years, construction has become a safer career, fact!

The final resource-pool is that of the unemployed. We are constantly reminded of how many unemployed there are. Is there anything that could be done to offer, at least a percentage of those individuals, the chance to do an apprenticeship and the opportunity to have a well-paid job at the end of it? Some of this seems so logical, am I being too naive?

According to FM Forum construction contributes an estimated 6% of the economy, so seeing a longer term solution is becoming a growing concern that isn't looking to stop in 2017, especially as the demand for experienced roles like planners, estimators and project managers becomes greater.

Many construction workers are retiring, and the rate of retirement looks set to increase as 22% of the workforce are over 50, and 15% are in their 60s. The industry is also losing out to competing sectors where work is more stable and pay is more competitive. With an ageing workforce and a poor pipeline of young people, it looks like the construction industry is certain to face a skills crisis in the next decade.

According to Agency Central the skills shortages are prevalent throughout the sector with blue collar workers hardest to find. Additionally, as the Stastista graph below shows, Quantity Surveyors are the hardest to find. These shortages will also mean increases in salaries as there are less qualified professionals about.

Statista: Negative impact of labour shortage on housebuilding activity in UK, Q4 2014, by profession

This has identified the problem as being double-edged in that both the professional and the more practical side of construction are suffering. The industry has reached a turning point, so what should we do? If we cannot entice the younger generation to take on apprenticeships within the industry will we have to increase our reliance on foreign workers? This has issues of its own regarding the language barrier and communication.

So, what is the solution? With investment in construction continuing its growth we need to look at our offerings for younger people, this includes women that have the skills set to undertake both the physical and technical sides of construction. Apprenticeship programs that we put out there need to ensure that a place will be allocated on completion. Investment in on-the-job training to expand their knowledge and to ensure health and safety is paramount throughout the whole cycle. Attracting new talent is key and, as we have considerable unemployment, should we not also target this area?

Let us remind ourselves about some 'key' aims of the, very successful, Construction (Design and Management) regulations (CDM2015). The government and large employers could learn a thing or two from these proven methods:-

  • Consultation: Consult with likeminded professionals and the workforce to find out what is missing
  • Cooperation: Between government and large organisations, get buy in, sing from the same song sheet
  • Communication: Open up the lines to speaking with each other, learn from this, improve things
  • Coordination: Coordinate the courses, apprenticeships and other training to ensure the skill sets required are fit for purpose

We will only be able to address the imbalance if employers and government work together and provide a strategy for skilling up within these resource pools. If they don't then the shortage of skills within the construction industry will spiral causing crippling delays and spiralling costs for our construction projects.

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Construction - Shortage in the Workforce
written by , January 2017