Paul Payne is Managing Director and Co-Founder of One Way, the construction and rail recruitment specialist, launching its ‘One Way Into Construction’ campaign to increase the numbers of young people entering the construction industry.
Anyone operating in construction will know that it suffers from a major problem, skills shortages. A dearth of talent has impacted the sector and has already taken its toll by pushing up rates and delaying projects, ultimately weakening the chances of them ever being completed on time or on budget. But what can be done to tackle the lack of skills in the industry?
Numerous solutions have been suggested as the growing issue has become a painful reality for firms trying to source the talent they need.
The upcoming apprenticeship levy is one such method as is targeting the masses of skilled and trained professionals who left construction shortly after the global recession and have never returned.
A large proportion of these people could come ready trained to almost immediately tackle the projects suffering from a lack of skills and numbers, however as the majority of them are now at the latter end of their careers, it’s not a particularly sustainable or long term fix to the problem.
Particularly when considering that up to a quarter of the current workforce is already over the age of 50 and 400,000 professionals plan to retire in the next decade. Worryingly, the increase in the number of workers over the age of 60 is the largest of any age group in the sector, suggesting that we need to find a solution to shortages quickly.
We’ve spoken in depth about the lack of women in the construction industry and have consequently launched our #GirlsAllowed campaign to increase the proportion of female workers in the sector up from the one per cent that it currently stands at.
At the best of times it would be concerning to essentially exclude half of the workforce from construction and now, when the industry is crying out for talent, it’s downright negligent.
However, increasing the number of women in construction alone won’t help to halt the skills shortage. What’s needed is a longer term solution that could help to prepare the sector for its future workforce needs.
Most industries tap into youngsters when they’re at school and before they’ve had to make important choices about subjects that could potentially dictate their entire careers.
Tech firms come in and wow school children with the potential to use virtual reality and other bleeding edge technology while financial firms promote the earning and progression material available in their industry.
Construction doesn’t do that to the same extent, to its detriment, and is consequently missing out on people who could be potentially interested in working in the field.
The immediate perception of construction for most people is working in the cold, wind and rain and while we all know that there certainly are unglamorous times, the entire external image of the sector needs to be changed.
Instead of trying to engage with children who’ve already had their heads turned by a career at Google or Facebook, why not promote the fact that builders can make a huge difference to millions of peoples’ lives, work on truly game changing projects and – let’s be honest – have the potential to earn some serious money while doing it.
We all saw the stories of bricklayers earning £1,000 plus per week, and while those sorts of rates have been heavily driven by shortages, a career as a project manager or quantity surveyor – for example – holds significant earning potential. And those with niche or hard to find skills will always be able to charge a premium to firms.
Employers need to think about when and how they engage with youngsters if they really want to widen the pipeline of new talent entering the industry.
What’s happening at the moment isn’t sustainable and will only lead to massive issues further down the line when the few professionals in the sector will essentially be able to dictate terms to employers.
If we’re serious about stopping shortages we need to get going – and fast – as there’s a staggering number of major projects on the horizon. Programmes like HS2 and the new runway at Heathrow don’t build themselves and we’re not yet at the stage where technology will be able to do it for us.
This should be a top priority for firms, without the talent they need projects won’t happen, budgets will spiral out of control and we could be left in a situation where we’re trying to source talent as we need it, which will only lead to further hold ups and overspending.
If we’re serious about tackling shortages, employers need to learn a lesson from other sectors and engage with youngsters before it’s too late.
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