The construction skills crisis: Five ways contractors can bridge the gap

Deborah Blackhurst is Founder and Director of Strategic Resourcing, a platform that streamlines talent acquisition in the construction sector. Here, she addresses the hot topic of the construction industry skills gap and, more importantly, what employers can do about it

It’s well documented that a widening skills gap is having a devastating impact on the construction sector. A recent Construction Skills Network report identifies “substantial recruitment and training challenges” in the industry. It forecasts an extra 251,500 construction workers will be needed by 2028 to meet the expected levels of work.

The same report states that construction employment fell by 0.9 per cent in 2023 following marginal growth in 2022. Further decline is predicted for 2024 at 1.5 per cent before anticipated growth in 2025.

According to a House of Commons Committee Report, the skills shortage is also hampering the delivery of key national infrastructure projects.

The skills gap inevitably impacts quality management and health and safety compliance. It creates project delays, increased costs, reduced productivity and, in the public sector, delays in the delivery of our much-needed social infrastructure, such as healthcare and housing.

How did we get here?

To determine how employers should combat the skills gap in the built environment, we need to understand how we got to this point.

There are some clear reasons for the skills shortage identified by construction employers:

  • An ageing workforce and fewer skilled specialists
    More workers are leaving construction than are joining which has resulted in an ageing workforce, of which just 19 per cent are under 25, and a lack of skilled specialists, particularly in technology and digital disciplines that are essential for futureproofing the industry.
  • Lack of young talent joining the construction sector
    UK demand for construction projects has increased, but there are not enough entrants into the industry to match the growth. It is estimated that 24,400 newly qualified apprentices are needed each year to meet the demand. Subcontractor trades in particular are experiencing a shortage of young talent. According to the UK Trade Skills Index 2023, the construction and trades industry needs 937,000 new recruits over the next decade, known as “the missing million”.
  • Inflation
    The skills gap has created a candidate-driven market that has made skilled labour significantly more expensive. On top of high material costs and supply chain pressures, this is creating ongoing financial challenges for contractors.

Five ways construction employers can combat the skills shortage

Rather than accepting the status quo and simply reacting to each recruitment challenge as it occurs, construction employers must be more proactive to find ways of preventing the gap becoming wider.

1. Retention strategies

Construction employee retention is low. Companies must look after existing employees by offering attractive company benefits, wellbeing policies and remuneration packages to dissuade them from moving to a competitor.

2. Engage the younger generation

Employers can attract a younger workforce by offering flexibility, a better work-life balance, job sharing or part-time hours. More apprenticeships, traineeships and upskilling will attract and retain a younger workforce.

A supportive approach through positive messaging and promoting the industry on the appropriate social platforms will also attract young talent.

3. Challenge negative perceptions

According to YouGov research by Deconstruction, 69 per cent of adults would not consider a construction career. Jobs within the sector are considered “dirty, stressful and unsafe”. To challenge these negative perceptions, employers must make some noise about the industry’s digital innovation, quality engineering, building design and new technology, and the benefits of a highly skilled career.

4. Quicker recruitment processes

Despite operating in a candidate driven market, many construction companies move too slowly during the recruitment process. This results in top talent looking elsewhere. Swift interview scheduling, employment offers and onboarding should be prioritised.

5. Strategic recruitment

Construction employers must embrace digital tools that manage and streamline the recruitment process. Using specialist construction recruiters, rather than generic agencies, will also help construction employers to target their recruitment processes more successfully.

The Strategic Resourcing platform draws upon the expertise of a national network of construction-specialist recruitment companies that helps organisations to bridge the crippling skills gap. The platform ensures users benefit from quality over quantity; they will find the best talent from fewer applications rather than having to plough through a plethora of CVs.

Strategic resourcing logo IPDon’t fall into the gap
If you’re ready to adopt a modern approach to recruitment, get in touch with Strategic Resourcing.

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