News - Construction News

How to tackle the skills gap head on

Mark Beacom, an Operating Director at Michael Page, explains the current skills gap that the construction industry is facing and what measures businesses can put in place to help fill them:

The construction industry has undergone a number of changes over the past 50 years and new skills are beginning to emerge – but the rate of innovation and innovation adoption has been very slow[1]. As a result, companies must ensure current and future employees are equipped with the necessary skills to help fill the ever-widening skills gap the industry is facing. It is essential to a company’s growth to invest in employees by offering up-to-date training, providing apprentice schemes and harnessing new technologies that are shaping and defining the construction industry.

However, current market uncertainty, driven largely by Brexit, has led to a decline in the number of people applying for jobs in the construction industry; our records indicate a 37% decline in job applications. Traditionally, the workforce in construction has been supported by the influx of labour from Eastern Europe. However, the supply of labour coming from those regions has declined since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, according to the CIPD.[2] As the industry faces a decline in applications this will become a critical issue in the form of a shortage of workers with the right skill set.

As a result, the industry needs to reconsider its recruitment processes to set itself up for future success and to harness the opportunities provided by recent investments.

Look to the younger generation

Apprenticeship programmes are a useful tool in helping to tackle the property and construction industry’s skills shortage crisis, so businesses should look to invest in them. Such programmes are essential to the construction sector because they give companies the opportunity to appeal to a younger demographic and prepare workers with the necessary skills to enter the workforce. While this doesn’t solve the immediate shorter-term issues, it is undoubtedly a positive step towards developing home-grown talent in the UK. Businesses can place more emphasis on encouraging school leavers and graduates into the property and construction industry, by utilising the government appointed apprenticeship levy or introducing training programmes into their business strategy.

Businesses can also look to specialist recruiters to boost applications from a younger talent pool. At PageGroup, we are committed to helping young people prepare for the world of work. Page Talent is a free to use service for our customers and part of PageGroup’s commitment to supporting youth employability. Unlike our other recruitment services, Page Talent is a place for students looking for internships or apprenticeships and employers looking to hire them to connect directly. Through this we can place a great deal of talented young individuals into the property and construction sector, giving them the opportunity to develop the skills needed.

Ensure diversity in recruitment processes

Another aspect to consider is for businesses to ensure they are recruiting talent from a diverse pool. Businesses will need to focus on encouraging both females and BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities) candidates into the industry.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that female representation in property and construction as a whole is considerably low, with women filling only 14% of all roles in construction. In addition, ONS figures show that BAME candidates filled only 5.5% of built environment roles; a clear indication there is more to be done. The solution will arguably be a series of marginal gains; no one thing is going to fix the issue, it’s going to be a collection of smaller things that are going to give the industry the boost that it needs.

Embrace technology

The challenge for the construction sector is to not only recruit candidates from a wider talent pool, but also to focus on hiring skilled professionals who are trained to use the emerging technologies that are now being implemented in this sector. Businesses must not only accept these changes but capitalise on them. However, as with any change of this magnitude, the benefits offered by the implementation of emerging technologies, and use of AI in particular, are met with some challenges. Most notably businesses will need to ensure they are equipped with the right tools, staff and skills to embrace AI and automation.

At this juncture, skilled employees are essential – and we anticipate a change in the skills that businesses across the construction sector will be demanding from their employees and prospective hires. For a number of years, Michael Page clients in this sector have been seeking candidates who have experience exploring AI-powered applications on site. Our recently launched Skills Checker tool allows candidates to find out the most in-demand skills for roles across the construction industry to highlight what employers are looking for today. But as we continue to see AI and automation adoption increase in the sector, we expect to see a rise in employers expanding the skill sets they require from new employees and AI experience becoming ever more valuable.

The focus for companies next year should be on attracting school leavers and college graduates into the profession by way of apprenticeship programmes, enabling companies to train and upskill their workforce on the new emerging technologies and with the relevant skills to work alongside AI and automation. A challenge in itself, such training should not be brushed off as a ‘nice to have’; it is vital for the growth, and even the survival, of a business. Employees are the lifeblood of any business; as the landscape of the construction sector changes, companies must ensure that their workforce is keeping pace with the industry and are well versed to fill the skills shortage gap.

[1] Research conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF)
[2] The CIPD (Championing better work lives and working lives)
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