Why do we have a skills shortage when we have so many careers to offer?

26 March 2019
There has been a lot written about the fact that the UK construction industry is facing a skills shortage that will result in limited construction activity and see an increase in labour costs. The shortage has recently hit its worst recorded level and it is expected to worsen over the coming years, with the recruitment of new talent failing to keep up with the rate of retirement. But as an industry offering so much diversity in terms of opportunity and career progression, why do we have a skills shortage and what do we need to do to change this?

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has reported that the industry will need to find 157,000 new recruits by 2021 in order to keep up with demand. Whilst there is no shortage of young people leaving education, the issue is that all too often they don’t regard the construction industry as an appealing place to start their career.

Earlier this month it was National Careers Week (NCW). Described as a ‘celebration of careers guidance’, it promotes a host of free resources in education across the UK. The aim is to provide a focus for careers guidance activity at an important stage in the academic calendar to help support young people leaving education. The problem is that during NCW and many other job fairs and events, construction seems to be low down the pecking order.

That isn’t to say that NCW has it wrong and isn’t doing its bit to promote construction. The responsibility is for the sector to communicate the opportunity and sheer diversity that it offers. This is where the sector needs to do better. For many, if you mention construction, you naturally think of labouring on site however the industry is so much more than that. On any large construction site you will find dozens of different roles ranging from traffic marshalling to site engineer, procurement to HR, IT to catering, legal to design and so on. In short, no matter what you want to do and no matter your ability, the construction industry has a role to suit.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) recently published its annual Construction Skills Network report. It claims that approximately 168,500 construction jobs will be created in the UK over the next five years. This figure is 10,000 more than in last year’s forecast with CITB also claiming construction employment will reach 2.79 million by 2023.
CITB policy director Steve Radley commented that “construction remains a steady career bet in an insecure jobs market.” Add in the diversity of roles and the ability for people to progress and develop, the construction industry should be one of the most in demand industries for young people.

To make our skills shortage issue even worse, Brexit uncertainty is still looming. The CITB has warned that the sector must act to avoid ‘widening the skills gap’ in the face of Brexit and in two recent publications stated that the industry needs to make significant changes to fill the growing number of roles required by the market.

In collaboration with several other industry bodies – including Construction Leadership Council (CLC), the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Construction Products Association (CPA), Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) – the CITB has offered industry proposals to help the sector ‘brace for tighter migration controls after Brexit’. The plan – ‘Building After Brexit: An Action Plan’ – calls for businesses to grow investment in domestic workers and drive up productivity. CITB also suggests the sector continues to work with the government to agree how to maintain access to migrant workers to give it the ‘breathing space to adapt’.  

As an industry we need to find a way to engage with young people and show them that construction is exciting, and it will provide a stable career path. Our sector wide skills shortage is not something that is going to go away anytime soon. This is no easy task but investing in the engagement of young people to show what the industry can offer has never been so time-critical.