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Engaging a younger workforce

The skills shortage in construction, infrastructure and engineering has been prevalent for a number of years. The problem of attracting and retaining talent within these industries is acknowledged by the government and industry bodies, who know that the key to future productivity is bringing new skills to the sector.

Changing perceptions of rail construction among young people is key to future success, says Lorna Gibson, training director at QTS Group.

Engaging a younger workforce is the key to increasing productivity across rail and construction sectors. There’s an undeniable skills shortage across the construction sector that’s been growing for years. A lack of young people joining the sector has exacerbated the talent crisis and led to accusations that the construction sector is falling behind other industries.

One area that fails to attract applicants to its discipline is rail construction. Research by City & Guilds and the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) anticipates that the talent crisis will escalate significantly in the coming years, with up to 120,000 additional workers needed in rail over the next five to ten years.*

The only way to counteract the ongoing skills shortage is to alter perceptions of the construction and rail industries. Changing the narrative and positioning the industry as an exciting and conscious career choice will help to engage more young people and create a dynamic workforce fit for the future.

Changing perceptions

There are so many exciting and rewarding opportunities within construction, yet the industry is plagued with misconceptions, which is causing fewer people to join the sector. According to research by the office of national statistics in 2021, there were 33,000 job vacancies across the industry between April and June last year, surpassing the number of vacancies seen before the pandemic, and hitting its second-highest level in 20 years.**

Inaccurate assumptions about the construction industry are turning people away. This includes jobs being low paid and low skilled, the industry lacking in gender and ethnic diversity, and the sector failing to evolve to welcome more sustainable practices.

With this, companies need to tackle these misconceptions head-on during their recruitment process to ensure they are rectifying them for the next generation of workers. This should include actively seeking and encouraging more women to join the sector, promoting diversity and inclusion processes and requesting applications from people from across all walks of life with varied educational backgrounds and skillsets.

Industry professionals must articulate the many benefits that the sector boasts, including the longevity of a rail career, financial security, travel opportunities and the sheer breadth of roles available.

Opportunities within construction are often overlooked, so it’s easy to see why young people may be misinformed. Emphasizing the different roles on offer, including operational, engineering, communications, and environmental jobs, is the best way to encourage young people to consider joining the industry.

Investment is more than skills and wages

Without question, companies need to invest in people early on in their careers to demonstrate their commitment to nurturing emerging talent in the sector.

There are many ways to achieve this. Offering apprenticeships, traineeships and graduate schemes are a great way to entice applicants to certain companies or roles, while ongoing professional development plans will encourage the retention of workers.

Companies should also look for less traditional routes to find talent and many Government-managed schemes can aid with this. For example, QTS Group recently signed up to the Government’s Kickstart Programme, a scheme that provides funding to enable businesses to create new jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds who are currently on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.

It has also been widely reported that millennials and Generation Z workers want a company’s investment in them to go beyond skills and professional development, while increased wages are also not enough to retain top talent.

A younger workforce wants to see flexibility in schedules, mental health support and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) initiatives in their potential employer. They also want to feel like the work they’re doing aligns with their passions and goals, and that their values align with their employer’s. Offering incentives that go above and beyond is the best way to attract and retain young workers, which will go a long way to increasing construction outputs in the coming years.

Demonstrating commitment to sustainability

With every new generation, the quest for sustainability seems to be strengthening and this has both direct and indirect links to recruitment, particularly in construction, which as an industry is considered bad for the planet.

Most construction companies have pledged various commitments to create more sustainable practices but surface-level policies, where companies make promises but don’t always deliver, don’t suffice in 2022. Younger generations want to work for and with businesses that are committed to making a real impact across the sector and are actively seeking ways to make their operations greener.

Stronger green credentials, such as tangible promises to cut emissions, will help businesses attract new and younger talent and encourage employees to remain in the sector. This will pay dividends in the long run, making individuals more productive and instilling a sense of pride in construction workers, which in turn makes businesses, and the entire industry, more valuable and attractive to future talent.

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