When it comes to the current health and state of the construction industry, the growing job gap and lack of skills is no hidden secret. Limiting industry growth, the UK’s skills shortage within construction is on a steady rise and as a result, we have seen a number of consequences rippling across the industry.
But where has the skills shortage come from? And how can businesses prepare for the next decade, when it looks like things could get worse?
Why is there a skills shortage in the construction industry?
The problem isn’t new, but this skills shortage reached its worst recorded level back in the early part of 2018. It has stemmed from a combination of factors, outlined below, but effects will be long-lasting and promises to be problematic and costly in the future.
The ongoing construction revolution, referred to as Industry 4.0, has seen a downturn in new jobs. Developing through the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and big data, the increased utilisation of technology and the way that this is used by businesses has undoubtedly played a hand in the ongoing industry skills shortage.
This increased use of computers and automation incorporated with smart, autonomous systems has been made possible with the rise of data and machine learning. As a result, we can now run and manage projects more efficiently with fewer staff with specialist skills needed. Instead of working in construction, these potential employees are moving to other industries.
It has been reported that the construction industry needs to find 157,000 new workers by 2021 to keep up with demand as a lot of employees will be retiring in the next ten years. However, a lack of drive to motivate and inspire a new generation of construction workers is exacerbating the problem and the UK is falling far short of the target.
So why is the industry unable to attract new young people and apprentices to fill the spaces of those retiring? Some suggest it’s a lack of digitisation in the industry, while others say it’s construction being portrayed poorly in schools.
At the time of writing, during the transition period, it is all but certain that Britain will be leaving the EU with a hard Brexit. However, this will only exacerbate the skills shortage – at the moment, approximately 165,000 construction jobs are filled by EU nationals.
With droves of European workers leaving the country ahead of the deferring exit date, this has, in turn, carved a deeper hole within the ever-expanding lack of skilled workers seen within the construction industry. Indeed has reported in a recent study that the number of European workers looking for a British construction job has fallen by 44% since 2015.
In the fifth Q&A session with Masterclass, one question that was asked to EasyBuild CEO, Carol Massay was about how can you ensure that your business is ready for Brexit. Carol answered: “Besides having to cope with all of the labour issues listed above, the legislative and regulatory ramifications of any type of Brexit are going to tax even the most assiduous of companies. Keep your eye on the ball with the things you do best, but rely on the resources of companies like EasyBuild to make sense of what will be a fluid, rapidly evolving, testing and inevitably frustrating operating environment.”
The world has all but ground to a halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the construction industry has felt the effects. Significantly less training can take place with social distancing measures and thousands of workers being furloughed. But there’s little that can be done when the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has had to halve its staffing levels due to COVID-19.
The implications of a skills shortage in the construction industry
From the rise in wages, willingness to take unacceptable risk and shortcuts to the desperation to meet agreed deadlines and expectations, the skills shortage has had a number of ramifications on the industry. Here are some of the most common side effects in both small and large companies.
One of the biggest effects of the skills shortage is the number of unskilled applicants being given jobs that they are not trained for. In a desperate state to complete the task at hand within the agreed time frame, some contractors skip a few steps and take risks that previously would have been deemed unacceptable.
With a large number of risks generated through the lack of training, costly repairs and blemished health and safety regulations, this could endanger both colleagues and the employee in question.
Salaries in the construction industry rose by 9% in the year ahead of 30 May 2019, despite a drop in advertised roles. Companies are now spending more money on fewer employees and while this is good for workers, it means there’s less money available for new talent.
Part of the reason for this is Brexit. Managing Director of Randstad Construction, Property & Engineering, Owen Goodhead spoke about its effects: “Our research shows that construction workers from overseas are being put off coming to the UK and those that are here are thinking about moving elsewhere; we know that over a third of European construction workers who are already here have considered leaving the UK due to Brexit. The shrinking pool of EU talent is already driving up wages – that’s the power of supply and demand. This Builder Brexodus is the referendum’s inheritance.”
Reduced quality of completed work
When it comes to completed work in an industry with a severe skills shortage, a drop in quality is anticipated. Through the lack of trained and experienced senior members of staff to the desperation to complete tasks on time, this can all add up to an unacceptable level of quality.
However, there are some steps you can take to avoid this. Make sure that all employees, regardless of their position, are accountable for their actions, and educate them on industry developments. It is also recommended to refrain from making fast and haste decisions, and ensure you choose subcontractors and suppliers carefully.
Carol Massay commented: “Previously the practice of collecting the correct competency of employees was a manual process, and came from a number of different sources. This led to duplication of effort and the introduction of mistakes. With the use of EasyBuild, competency skills are allocated to each of the key elements of the contract work, which is matched against the industry-standard certification.”
How can you prepare your business?
One of the best ways you can brace yourself for the skills shortage is with enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. EasyBuild offers award-winning software that helps you keep your company on track.
What is ERP and how does it work?
ERP brings together a large range of processes that are essential in successfully running a business. From human resources and customer relationship management to accounting and supply chains, these systems can compile everything you need to streamline processes and information.
There are many benefits of using ERPs, like shared databases and real-time information that everyone can access. Whether a worker is on the site or in your head office, they’ll be able to view up-to-date data at the same time.
It has been recommended that companies look to embrace more modern techniques. Able to help and assist in off-site construction, modular construction and manufacturing and assembly, the discovery and rise of modern technology is a benefit that should be adopted by all.
With times continuously changing, thinking outside of the norm is paramount for companies keeping to their targets. Moreover, modern technology can help in recruiting and filling in those ever-growing skills gaps.
Ensure diversity during recruitment
Businesses should look to hire from a diverse pool of candidates. Women are often overlooked in the recruitment process and only make up 14% of the workforce, and they find it hard to make any headway in their career due to fear of sexism.
This isn’t the only underrepresented group in construction, though. At the moment BAME candidates fill only 5.5% of built environment roles, but changing this could bridge some of the skills gap.
When attracting new workers, apprenticeship programmes are key. By looking to the younger generation and investing in the future, companies can tackle the skills shortages head-on while training and preparing their staff with all the skills needed throughout their role.
Although it’s difficult to address the short-term challenges that the skills shortage presents, preparing for the future can ensure that a positive step has been taken to prepare the construction industry for a successful future.
If you would like more help or wish to discuss your company’s individual needs to ensure you’re prepared for the future, contact our team here at EasyBuild. Along with allowing you to be fully prepared for any impact of the skills shortage facing the construction industry, by following our advice, you too can protect and improve your site.