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Five ways the skills shortage in construction can be resolved

Ten years ago, those with practical skills in the construction industry were leaving in droves because of the global downturn – and in many instances also leaving the country. Sarah Wilson, Head of Construction at Shulmans LLP, discusses the problem.

Now, ten years on, we are bemoaning a skills shortage and the resulting salary increases (which is tough when profitability in the construction sector is low.) It is not uncommon to hear stories of vans arriving at construction sites to entice workers to different sites with promises of more money. Consequently, this has a knock-on effect on both progress and productivity on site.

These are not simple issues to fix, but my five suggestions to resolve this issue of attracting, developing and retaining talent in construction industry are:

1. A diverse workforce

Statistics show that a diverse workforce has a double benefit in resolving a skills shortage by improving productivity and reducing staff turnover, which is a win/win for business.

2. Apprenticeships

In my opinion, switched-on students are now opting to avoid student debt and get a wider education than they would through a traditional degree course via an apprenticeship. Again, this is a double win, as it also means the businesses can mould and train apprentices and avoid the problem of new recruits not arriving at work ‘job ready’.

3. Valuing practical skills

For many years now, huge emphasis has been placed on degree courses, many of which lead to low paid, unfulfilling work. However, practical skills seem to be under-valued. It’s often claimed that certain generations cannot do basic practical tasks such as wiring a plug or changing a light bulb. As the natural supply of practical skills is reducing, demand must increase. This will hopefully result in practical skills being more valued, taught across schools and colleges and the industry will attract more school leavers as a result.

4. A better understanding of the construction industry

A lot of work is being done by construction companies to encourage people into the industry. However, the fact remains that most school children know very little about construction and the bad press it sometimes receives does not help.

The best kept secret is that the construction industry has many benefits; it is well paid, has good opportunities for promotion, a wide variety of jobs and the teamwork is incredible! Construction is an exciting and rewarding career choice and the people I speak to have a huge sense of satisfaction in the projects they have been involved in.

5. And if all else fails…

Being such a large sector is a major benefit as there is something for everyone in construction!

For years, I have been advocating a slick, stylised television drama based on the construction industry. How could it not encourage people into the sector?

As is often the case, there is no easy solution and some fantastic work is already being done by construction companies, professionals, schools and colleges to promote careers in the industry.


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