Mind the gap – how can the construction industry tackle its skills shortage?

 

Why is there a skills shortage?

There are a number of key reasons why there is a skills shortage in the construction industry – and the situation will only get worse if supportive action is not taken. 22% of the workforce is over 50 and 15% are in their 60s, meaning over the next few years these skilled people will retire from the industry.  Even today the industry has a poor image, resulting in a low level of appeal as a career option.  This is reinforced by few parents encouraging their children to consider the sector as a first-choice profession, preferring instead to steer them towards careers in medicine, law and finance.  And even though there has been a gender shift over the last 20 years, which has seen more women entering the industry, they still only make up approximately 11% of the overall workforce.  These issues are magnified due to the industry not having made a commitment to create apprenticeships and training opportunities. Figures suggest that as few as 1% of employers are engaging apprentices or inexperienced staff member for training – a missed opportunity to help ease the skills shortfall.

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Bridging the gap

The skills shortage has been a factor in driving up wages, which has had further impact on vital infrastructure work, including the efforts to build more homes. Despite huge government investment of over £1 billion into training and apprenticeship schemes, on average there is still a lower proportion of construction firms providing training than in other sectors.  The industry as a whole needs to make a commitment to apprentices, highlighting a clear pipeline of opportunity and earning potential.  This will be helped by working closely with training colleges, to ensure that students are being taught the skills to address the identified shortages.  Women in particular need to be encouraged to consider the sector as a viable career option, with its vast array of job opportunities available.

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Whilst achieving value for money is important, it should not be confused with ‘doing things cheaply’ as such an economic outlook will be to the detriment of creating a skilled workforce.  Clients need to understand that driving the price down won’t always result in the best solution, as too often the skills gap is filled by a better qualified international workforce, rather than investing in and developing our own talent pool. Developing and training a workforce represents a high level of commitment, as it is a huge undertaking with financial risks.  To mitigate against this risk, it is important that the Government makes a clear commitment to invest in major construction projects, as this will enable businesses to plan their work flow and identify skills gaps early enough to ensure suitable trained people are in place.

 

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