The looming talent crisis in UK construction

The construction industry is one of the leading drivers of the British economy, generating £90bn annually (6.7% of GDP), responsible for employing over 2.93m professionals in the UK, and contributes considerably to the UK’s total output.
With this output expected to rise, thanks to increased investments from both government and private organisations, the demand for skilled construction professionals will follow suit. However, according to the State of Trade Report released by The Federation of Master Builders’ in December last year, the total employment net balance in the UK construction sector fell by 6% in Q4. Of those surveyed, only 21% of firms predicted rising staffing levels in the coming quarter and 14% actually forecast employment cuts. When coupled with figures predicting a 1.7% growth in construction output levels over the next five years, the stats begin to paint a worrying picture of the critical shortage of skills facing the construction industry in the immediate future. 
In order to tackle the problem head on, trade organisations must take responsibility for attracting and training more construction professionals, and must do so fast. Failure to meet this demand poses a significant issue for employers and recruiters alike.

The current talent shortage  

Unfortunately the UK’s construction skills gap isn’t a new problem. The financial crisis of 2008 sparked a reluctance in banks to grant loans for construction projects, and resulted in many skilled tradesmen and construction professionals leaving the industry, graduate and apprenticeship programmes being cut, and very little hiring for the following years. As a result the market is experiencing a shortage of ‘young talent’ (those with five to eight years’ experience).
The situation is set to worsen over the next five years, as a large proportion of qualified professionals and tradesmen are now approaching retirement age – 22% over 50, and 15% in their 60s. As these professionals prepare to leave the industry replenishing their experience and bridging the talent gap is now of upmost importance. 

Closing the gap

The lack of apprenticeship opportunities and reluctance of young talent to join the industry has resulted in fewer fully qualified individuals in the talent pool. The solution here has been for construction jobs to be simplified – for example, some carpenters only do first fix or second fix work. While this narrows the skills gap it has resulted in construction becoming a less attractive vocation for potential industry entrants. 
Foreign labour has also proven an effective way for the UK to fill its talent gap. However, amid the current climate of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, establishing the long-term viability of this as a solution could prove tricky. Should foreign labour laws change in the future, there is no guarantee that the UK could continue to make use of this essential resource so easily. 
Instead some companies are now re-establishing apprenticeship schemes to take advantage of the newly implemented Apprenticeship Levy. Though not able to solve the skills gap on its own, apprenticeships that run theory training alongside practical experience will quickly mark a positive step forward for home-grown talent in the UK.

Looking forward 

With increased investment in residential and infrastructure projects across the country, the demand for skilled construction professionals will continue to grow. Not only does this make the sector a very attractive one for individuals seeking a long-term career that is less susceptible to be replaced by technology, but a lucrative one in which the majority of experienced individuals will earn well above the average UK salary.
By promoting the positives of this key industry to the next generation of UK workers, and by ensuring organisations, the government, schools and businesses are providing the training opportunities needed by young talent, the construction industry can begin to build the bridges it needs in order to overcome the skills shortage. 
For any further information on the topic or to discuss your recruitment needs, please get do not hesitate to get in touch.
Mark Beacom
T: +44 20 7269 2122