27 April 2022
Who is responsible for construction upskilling?

What do you think when you think of a construction worker? “Let’s be honest,” says Lucy Fernando, master franchise owner at Fantastic Services, a platform that connects customers with a wide variety of tradespeople. “When picturing a construction worker, everyone sees the image of a not-so-attractive, sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb man, probably in his 40s, wearing a bright yellow or orange vest.”

I’m sure that we have all been guilty of having a stereotyped image of a trade or profession – but when the stereotype begins to have a harmful impact on the future prospects of an entire industry, it’s time to take action.

Skills shortage hits construction industry

It’s no secret that the construction sector is facing a skills crisis – it’s a topic we’ve explored in detail in previous blogs. One of the main reasons for this is that young people aren’t entering the industry in sufficient numbers due to skewed perceptions of construction workers, as per the description above. As a result, the workforce is getting older and many highly skilled construction workers are now approaching retirement – and they aren’t getting replaced. According to recent research, a third of construction workers today are aged over 50, and yet just 10% are aged between 19 and 24. But whose responsibility is it to change this?

Onus falls on employers

The pressure is primarily on employers to change the next generation’s perceptions of their industry. According to recruitment blog Hays, young people under the age of 24 are socially and environmentally conscious, concerned about LGBTQ+ issues, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and are extremely technologically savvy. They are also the generation whose education and job prospects have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what must employers do to attract a new generation?

A recently published report from Constructing Excellence South West (CESW) aimed to answer just this question. The recommendations include:

  • Changing perceptions – there is a need to educate young people about the modern industry, including the use of new and sophisticated technology and the vital role that construction has to play in mitigating climate change.
  • Workplaces fit for the future – particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, people’s expectations of their workplace have changed. Construction firms must act to ensure that working conditions match these new expectations, for example by hiring a more diverse workforce and ensuring that salaries and workplace benefits are competitive.
  • Engaging with local schools – changing people’s perceptions must start as early as possible, which is why collaborating with schools and universities is more important than ever to alert children and young adults to career possibilities they may not otherwise have considered.
  • Creative campaigns – young people spend a huge amount of time on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Marketing campaigns should therefore focus on these platforms and match the kind of content younger generations enjoy and engage with on a daily basis.
  • Developing career pathways – the report highlighted that more must be done to link school and further education with training and jobs.

Government must also step in

In reality, this is a huge amount of pressure to be placing solely on the shoulders of a construction industry that has, in just the past few years alone, been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and global supply chain shortages. As one of the principal clients of the UK construction industry, and with highly ambitious targets for housing and carbon emissions which depend on that industry being at its very best, it is arguably also the government’s responsibility to support construction firms to overcome the skills shortage.

According to a recent article published by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), this could be achieved in numerous ways. For example, the cyclical nature of construction means that firms can be reluctant to invest in training and hiring people they may very well have to let go a few years down the line. This could be resolved by the government increasing investment during periods of lower activity, so that firms have an assured workload and therefore the confidence to invest in training and recruitment. Another solution is for the government to more actively support training and apprenticeships, with some industry players arguing that current schemes don’t go far enough to resolve what has now become a crisis situation.