The big problem in construction
The UK construction industry is currently worth over £100bn to the British economy and is growing rapidly once again; investment is booming across all sectors, predominantly seen in commercial, residential, and infrastructure growth.
Yet while this should be an exciting time for construction companies, there is an ever present and growing concern: order books for 2018 are the healthiest they have been in almost a decade, but many businesses are being forced to turn work away. This is not due to a lack of knowledge, ability, or technology, but instead the deeply troubling fact that there are simply not enough skilled workers to complete the jobs on offer. The current average age of a construction worker is 49 and the number of young people attracted to the industry is at an all-time low, making the future of construction look worryingly uncertain.
What has created this situation?
The economic downturn in 2010 saw a lot of investment, confidence, and subsequently people leave the construction industry and not return, creating an environment whereby those who remained were simply stretched too thin. With a limited number of workers and lack of government investment in training and apprenticeships, there was simply not the resource to entice or keep young people in the industry, with many older workers forced to retire early due to the demands placed upon them, and nobody available to train any apprentices who did come along.
All of this has led to a common misconception amongst the youth of Britain that construction jobs are low paid, physically demanding, and often involve operating in cold, wet, uncomfortable environments, more often than not an off-putting concept to young people.
What can we do to fix this?
Young people in England are now required to stay in some form of training or education until they are 18 years old, and with the government planning to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, we as an industry need to take full advantage of this situation. As part of this scheme, the government are introducing skill centres and funding to encourage young people into full- and part-time apprenticeships and traineeships, but this alone is not enough to solve our industry’s problem of a skills gap.
It is our responsibility as employers to re-educate the masses of young people and school leavers about the opportunities within the construction industry which can offer them all manner of roles, covering a vast range of skill-sets, and include anything from hands on labour to cushy office jobs. Roles such as architecture, Quantity Surveying, estimating, and design management (all of which have often been associated with expensive degrees) can now be achieved via apprenticeship schemes, and best of all young people can receive a vocation, qualifications, and a career path while actually being paid to work.
Plugging the skills gap in the construction industry will not happen by itself, and it will not happen overnight. In order to attract young people back to the construction industry and to flourish once more, we need to truly commit to the apprenticeship schemes and invest in the future. We need to get in front of these school leavers in school assemblies, career fairs and skills fairs and create an appetite for the truly great careers that could lay ahead of them in the construction industry. Most importantly, we need to act now. Without a major change within the next five years, the skills gap will simply continue to grow until companies have no choice but to shrink back their workforces and hamper production, ultimately slowing growth nationwide and risking another major collapse. We have a golden opportunity for a bright future right now, let’s not let it slip away.
The beginning of 2018 has not been uplifting for the construction industry, with headline after headline bringing uncertainty and unrest about the future and sustainability of UK businesses.
From the Cheshire area, Mike McVey has joined the Dribuild team and will be based at the company's Manchester office.