Posted on 26th January 2023

Construction: How To Attract Top-Tier Talent Despite A Skills Shortage

Portrait of female automation engineer team standing and working in industrial factory.

Recent years have seen much strain on the UK’s construction industry, but it has bounced back quickly and in 2022 reached pre-pandemic levels of output. From large infrastructure projects to housing, and to retrofitting old buildings to meet zero-carbon targets, there is no shortage of opportunity within this sector.

However, it is currently facing a severe shortage of workers. The Construction Skills Network projects that an additional 217,000 workers will need to be recruited by 2025 just to keep up with demand. But according to a recent report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), 83% of companies within the construction sector have faced difficulties in recruiting staff.

There are a few main reasons for this. The majority of construction workers are between the ages of 50-56, meaning that many are or will soon be heading into retirement and thus the sector will be losing its most experienced and highly skilled workers.

Statistics from the ONS also show that despite growth in the sector, the number of hours worked by 16-29-year-olds has remained consistent. This suggests that as well as losing older workers, not enough young people are taking up careers within the construction industry. The drop in the number of overseas workers has also had a knock-on effect.

So, what can businesses and contractors do to attract talent and fill the skills gap? 

 

Improve training

In a survey from KPMG that asked organisations how to overcome talent shortages, more than 50% of respondents said that increasing skills and training was a key way to do so.

For potential and existing employees, there are several benefits to enhancing both hard and soft skills. Offering continuous training and development can help employees to feel like the company is genuinely invested in them, which then increases their motivation, confidence, and loyalty to employers. It also means that employers will be able to benefit from the all-important skills that are currently lacking within the construction industry.

According to one recent survey, 56% of 18-29-year-olds find the prospect of a career within construction ‘attractive’ – which places greater importance on creating clearer, easier pathways for young people to take up careers in construction.

The Construction Support Partnership is one such programme, which aims to offer mentoring, support and training to those starting out in construction or returning to the industry. Apprenticeships are also increasing in popularity, with 2021/22’s intake up by 14.1% on the previous year. Degree apprenticeships are also becoming more widely available, rising in England and Wales from 1,000 in 2017 to 6,000 in 2021.

 

Prioritise the company culture

From high workloads to long hours, the construction industry has a variety of pressures that can impact the workforce. One recent survey from Mates In Mind, a charity that seeks to improve well-being within construction, found that nearly a third of construction workers experience heightened levels of anxiety every day. The stigma that is often present within the construction industry can mean that these issues go unspoken, which can have a negative impact on morale, productivity, and the overall culture.

This can be tackled by focusing on wellbeing through education, training, and having an open and honest work culture that encourages employees to speak to managers if they are struggling rather than keep quiet. As well as improving the existing workplace environment, it also makes the company much more attractive to prospective employees.

 

Workplace safety

On the other side of things, it’s also vital to prioritise workplace safety. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), construction has much higher rates of workplace injuries when compared to other industries. Worries about safety and manual labour can be a key factor in putting people off careers within the construction industry, so it’s important to tackle these with rigorous health and safety practices.

A primary way of doing this is by minimising the amount of physical effort required from workers. For example, powered access platforms can serve as a much safer replacement for manual tools like ladders and scaffolding.

 

Be flexible

Flexible working, according to one study, is now the factor that is most likely to make jobseekers apply for a position. While the tight deadlines of construction can make flexibility difficult, especially for onsite projects, there are ways it can be done. By focusing on output rather than being onsite, employers can give employees greater control over what hours they work. Even just a couple of hours to make an appointment or pick up kids from school can have a huge impact on the lives of employees – and it makes the company all that more appealing when it comes to recruiting. 

 

Believe in potential

Finally, to attract and retain top talent, companies need to believe in the potential of their employees, especially those who are just beginning their careers or returning from a prolonged absence. When hiring, consider adjacent skills as well as those directly connected to construction – with the right training, the right person will be able to thrive within the industry. It’s also important not to underestimate the value of soft skills, as these are the things that can build a team that can communicate, work well together, and support one another to achieve goals.

The skills gap will inevitably continue to present challenges to businesses within the construction industry. But there are many ways that you can address this and make sure your business is one that can both attract and nurture top-tier talent.