What is Causing a Construction Skills Shortage?

According to reports by The Federation of Master Builders, the UK Construction sector has hit a major skills shortage, with 40% of construction trades currently experiencing their highest skills gap since 2013. 

Construction is a dominant sector within the UK economy, generating £90 billion annually and employing around 3 million people. In fact, approximately 10% of those employed in the UK work in the construction sector. 

However, in early 2018, the skills shortage in construction hit a record level and has since been expected to worsen. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that 230,000 new skilled workers are required to meet the demand for new infrastructure and housing projects in the UK. 

Creating a landscape of limited activity and high labour costs across the sector those worse affected are UK SMEs. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has found that construction companies are not just struggling to recruit bricklayers or carpenters, but plumbers and electricians. The entire sector is in crisis for skilled tradespeople. 

The causation of the crisis can not be pinned on one reason alone. Instead, a combination of factors, both industrial and economic, are influencing the need for skills in the construction sector. 

An Ageing Workforce 

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that 20% of UK construction workers are over fifty, with 15% now in their sixties. In 2011, it was estimated that one in every five UK-born construction workers were aged over fifty-five, meaning by 2021 these people will have reached retirement age. 

In more recent data from the ONS, the number of construction workers aged between 25 and 49 accounted for 58% of the UK construction workforce. The second group of those aged 50 and over account for 32.5%. 

With mixed roles including plasterers, painters, plumbers and carpenters, the trouble is, the same percentage of young people are not entering these professions, leaving huge gaps to be filled. 

In a review by The Chartered Institute of Building on the impact of an ageing workforce, it found that essential skills will be lost when employees retire. This is made more detrimental to the industry by the fact that young talent is declining.  

Lack of Young Talent 

Young skilled labour entering the construction industry is at its lowest level. In research conducted by YouGov, only 3% of young people aged between 18-24 have searched for a job in the construction industry. 

According to apprenticeship figures for the 2017-2018 academic year, new starters plummeted by 24%. Despite the apprenticeship levy, the number of completed apprenticeships has continued to decrease since pre-recession statistics. 

There are a number of reasons that could be deterring young people from entering into a career in construction. 

As well as competing alongside other sectors, where work is perceived as more stable or appealing, there is little awareness of the variety of roles that are available in the construction sector. 

Outdated perceptions of the industry still plague a young generation who believe that construction offers an uncertain future. 

At present, one-fifth of all job roles in the construction sector cannot be permanently filled because employers are unable to recruit staff with the skills and experience required. 

Slow Digitalisation 

Construction is one of the UK’s least digitised industries. From project management to office logistics, paperwork still rules. However, this element plays a key role in the detachment of young talent from the construction sector. 

Today’s young workforce were born into a digital world and have grown-up alongside technology. Termed as ‘digital natives’, today’s modern workforce struggle in a sector that doesn’t include smart technology. 

While it is widely accepted that the construction sector has been slow to adopt technology, there are new technologies which need to be embraced.  From cloud-based project management tools to smart devices. Technology can future-proof construction businesses against uncertainty, change and competition. 

In the McKinsey report ‘Imagining Construction’s Digital Future’, it outlines that widespread adoption of technology in the construction industry could ensure it stays relevant with its fast-paced peers. 

Brexit Blues

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has played its part in the skills shortage of the construction industry. 

At present, approximately 10% of the workforce within the construction industry is comprised of migrants, 7% being of EU nationality. 

Filling around 165,000 construction jobs in the UK, EU nationals have been much of the backbone of the construction sector during the skills crisis. 

Compared to the older UK-born construction workforce, non-UK nationals are younger, with only 18% over the age of 45. 

According to a survey by Randstad one in three EU nationals have considered leaving the UK because of Brexit. Meaning there are fears that Brexit will lead to a further decline in the current level of skills shortage across the UK.

If the suggested figures become a reality, highly-skilled EU workers who often stay in their roles for three to four years, will leave the country and create a deficit of construction skills. 

How Can the Skills Shortage Be Addressed? 

The future of the construction industry is widely debated as it faces many areas of uncertainty. 

To address the need for young talent to enter the construction industry, negative perceptions must be faced to encourage more people into construction careers. 

While many in the construction industry want more support from the UK government, businesses within the industry should also look to be active and engage with schools and colleges. 

Only by revealing more about the roles available, and the advantage of learning a trade, can we expect more young people to actively seek a career in the industry. 

In terms of digitalisation, this is an aspect that the construction industry must start to adopt and invest in if it is to future-proof itself and avoid future shortages. This may take time and will be led by younger workers who wish to innovate a traditionalist industry. 

With more than a million homes estimated to be built by 2020, the construction industry is experiencing a resurgence in growth, which means it is now more important that the sector works together to bring in the skilled workers it needs. 

Contact Marshall Recruitment about your Construction Recruitment needs.


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