Industry leaders must target schools to tackle the skills shortage - International Burch University
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Industry leaders must target schools to tackle the skills shortage

The skills shortage in the industry must be tackled at a grass roots level by attracting young diverse people whilst they are still at school.Industry leaders must target schools to tackle the skills shortage.

An ageing workforce is being blamed for the skills shortage within the construction industry. Retired workers are not being replaced. The government has promised to build 300,000 new homes each year, but there is growing concern that there won’t be the skilled people to work on them. In Q3 of 2020, construction vacancies increased by 213.4 percent. Despite vast numbers of industry job postings, the construction sector had a quarter-on-quarter 53.9 percent decline in applications per vacancy. Feeding those concerns are reports that whilst the UK economy grew by 2.3 percent in April, its fastest monthly growth since last July, construction figures fell, despite growth in March. It should be noted though, that the figures still remain above their pre pandemic peak.

We typically think of construction industry roles as being trade based: builders, construction managers and joiners. However, the skills shortage is being seen across the industry as a whole and not just at site level. Within the quantity and building surveying and consultancy part of the sector you may get one hundred graduates to fill three core areas of expertise. Many will then gravitate to one area, leaving the other two thin. Industry leaders must concern themselves with understanding all aspects of the construction industry and the gaps within it.

Targeting schools is key to keeping our industry moving forward and attracting diverse young talent. We need the big firms to explain to schoolchildren what the different Real Estate construction roles are. What skills are needed to do the jobs, how those skills relate to individuals on a personal level and how to access the available opportunities. We must invest in making the industry more attractive to young people or we will find ourselves ‘candidate short’. We need to be targeting children as young as 13 who are making their GCSE choices. A strength to our industry is that certain parts of it are almost recession proof. Roles are varied and not often solely office based which may appeal to those who feel drawn to a more flexible way of working.

When we look to attract our future workforce we must take into consideration that we live in a diverse world and our industry must reflect that in its hiring. Now is the time to focus on inner city schools. We must be genuine in our commitment to diversity and inclusion at both apprenticeship and graduate levels within the construction industry. Companies will ask for a list of diverse candidates across all disciplines within construction and development, but they often require them to have 10-15 years experience. If those people aren’t starting in the industry then candidate lists won’t be able to reflect that diversity. If companies can’t reflect a workforce that mirrors their clients and investors, they may take their business elsewhere.

We must pay close attention to apprenticeships as a way of attracting diverse and talented individuals straight from school and into the industry. Training young people on the job whilst they earn seems to have stalled. The Department for Education reported it had to surrender 250 million pounds of unused apprenticeship funding last year, because demand for apprenticeships from employers was “lower than expected” partly due to the impact of Covid-19. Government figures also showed that apprenticeship starts from those living in the most deprived areas had fallen from 22% to 14% at the end of 2020. A search for a project management apprenticeship in Greater London on the government website turned up just one opportunity.

The government says they are committed to tackling the skills shortage in the country through apprenticeship schemes. Incentive payments of £3,000 for employers to take on apprentices are being offered until this September and the skills minister Gillian Keegan says she is committed to building really solid skills pipelines in this country through the apprenticeship levy. However, September is looming and it remains to be seen if it is enough time to persuade our construction companies to get on board and address the skills shortage in the UK, while providing solid jobs and careers for our young people.

*Christine Scott is the director of Development and Construction for Madison Berkeley


Department of Civil Engineering