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Three ways construction can cut the skills shortages



It’s not an easy time to be working within the construction industry. There’s simply not enough talent in the market, projects are being put on hold and firms are being more selective about what they invest in, largely because of workforce-related issues.

The cost of hiring construction professionals on a contingent basis has skyrocketed which means that many employers could even be forced out of business in the coming years. Traditional approaches to end the crisis have all but failed because of a lack of focus on actually getting more people into the industry. However, help is at hand and we’ve outlined our top three ways to tackle the construction skills crisis.

Promote a better image of the industry to the public

If you asked the average person what they thought of the construction industry, chances are their answer wouldn’t be overly positive. We’re behind the times and most would probably think of standing in a trench getting dirty and not being paid a lot. However, as we all know that’s not a fair representation of the industry, not all of the time anyway. Instead of promoting that outdated view we should be focusing on the good things construction has to offer. That means talking about the potential to contribute to game-changing infrastructure or a major new skyscraper, rather than just digging trenches.

We also need to think about the way potential recruits are attracted to the industry. How many people know that the skills of an accountant and a quantity surveyor, for example, are remarkably similar? From our experience it’s very few, but you can guarantee that more people would rather have the chance to be on-site, outdoors and contributing to something visible and impactful than being sat in an office every day working on a spreadsheet. The construction industry has so much more potential to attract people – we’re just not talking about the right things.

Widen talent pipelines into the industry

This can only realistically be achieved by promoting a more positive image of the industry as, currently, few youngsters actively seek out a career in construction. This is a major issue – there are more workers aged over 60 than any other age group and around 400,000 professionals are set to retire within the next five years. To put it bluntly, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to find anything close to the 400,000 entry-level professionals to replace them in the current market.

That means something has to change. Firms need to take the bull by the horns and start being proactive. This isn’t a completely altruistic move, it’s one that can make recruitment much simpler and remove some of the headaches – and costs – from hiring professionals on a short-term basis. Employers need to engage with schools, colleges and training providers and actually speak to youngsters about what a career in construction really means. They could offer mentoring or shadowing opportunities, work experience or apprenticeships, anything that shows youngsters that construction is even an option on the table for them. Currently, schools get visits from legal firms, accountants, technology companies and almost everything else, except for construction. We’re trying to change that and our One Way into Construction initiative attempts to explore the true potential that a career in the field can hold. Hopefully, more employers will start to do the same.

Improve gender diversity

This suggestion could certainly provide the biggest long- and short-term impact to the construction industry. The levels of gender diversity within the industry are incredibly low. Just 1% of onsite roles are held by women and construction trails behind almost every other industry when it comes to gender diversity. At a time when skills shortages are rife, this is bizarre and frankly, negligent. The industry essentially rules out half of the workforce from working within it because so little is done to attract women to it outside of initiatives like #GirlsAllowed. As mentioned above, construction has one of the most outdated and unappealing external images around and this has to change if the industry is to tackle its recruitment woes and get back to profitability.

 

Paul Payne is managing director and founder of One Way, the construction and rail recruitment specialist.

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