As the construction sector bounces back after the pandemic, it is also having to contend with a chronic talent shortage that means 58% of organisations struggling to hire the skills they need. Matt Keen reflects on the challenge and the opportunity.
An ageing workforce, the aftershocks of Brexit, and the difficulty of recruiting younger professionals all mean that UK infrastructure projects and affordable housing programmes could be put at risk or delayed.
Although the UK economy is facing a shrinking economy in 2023, we need 225,000 new construction workers by 2027, according to the latest Construction Skills Network report. In a period of great uncertainty, the increasing skills gap will hurt the UK economy with rising concerns over output in 2023 and beyond. Existing employees are being forced to put in longer hours on site to fill the gap, so it’s no surprise that 75% of construction professionals think that worker fatigue is now a major problem.
In order to overcome the latest crisis hitting the industry, it’s imperative that firms take proactive steps now to attract new employees while also keeping their current workforce happy.
‘The industry will need specialists with digital skills such as virtual or augmented reality, AI and digital twins’
Digital skills at the forefront
A fifth of construction professionals believe construction talent shortages over the next five to ten years will be caused by a shortage of digital and technology skills.
Right now, construction is going through a transformative period, as companies grapple with current challenges and rethink how they use technology to meet new standards. This means the industry will have an increasing need for specialists with digital skills such as virtual or augmented reality, AI and digital twins. In addition to recruiting new skills into the industry, there is also a need to continue up-skilling existing employees so they can help firms successfully embrace the opportunities on offer.
Firms that don’t prioritise digital skills in the recruitment process now will struggle to keep up with digital initiatives for their business in the future. Furthermore, investing in new technologies in conjunction with up-skilling and recruitment efforts could give firms a competitive edge and protect their prosperity in the long-term.
To effectively tackle the skills shortage, firms need to rethink their current approach to recruitment and ensure that they are appealing to a wide and diverse pool of potential candidates. Currently, 28% of professionals say that the construction industry is less attractive than other sectors as it is seen to provide poor working conditions and a lack of career development. Employers must tackle these perceptions to ensure that prospective candidates aren’t put off from the outset.
At an industry level, construction needs to address these perceptions through national campaigns that highlight the exciting opportunities in the sector. Closer ties between educational institutions – at every level – and construction businesses will also help to ensure that new candidates have the skills most needed for the industry but also the awareness of the routes into employment.
Employers also need to work harder to ensure that they create a workplace where everyone is respected, treated fairly and supported. Improving equality, diversity and inclusion will not only help the working environment for existing employees but it will also bring new talent into construction.
‘Tackling recruitment and technology challenges in tandem will help construction companies and sites become the best advertisement in attracting talent’
Without more emphasis on improving diversity, the industry is effectively missing out on huge numbers of skilled people and even limiting its own performance, as companies with more diverse workforces have also been shown to be more profitable.
Many businesses have already recognised the importance of this with three-quarters working to prioritise hiring people from diverse backgrounds. But diversity goes beyond background and it’s important for firms to recognise the unique perspectives that individuals can bring to create a more diverse workplace.
With staff shortages making a significant impact on the industry, there’s no time to lose – employers must engage beyond the traditional sources to stand the best chance of tackling the problem.
Taking action to future-proof the workforce
To facilitate future success, it is vital that leaders within construction take action to address the severe talent shortage. Tackling recruitment and technology challenges in tandem will help construction companies and sites become the best advertisement in attracting talent, not just for themselves, but also for the sector as a whole. Organisations must also invest in the skills that will meet growing needs such as net zero emissions.
Purpose-driven organisations will attract a more diverse range of employees into the industry. While implementing digital tools and processes, especially in times of talent shortages, can be daunting, it could be what firms need to give them a competitive edge and maintain their post-pandemic recovery. Not only will it help achieve long-term goals, but it will also help to ease pressures within the workforce in the short term.
Download the full report, UK construction in 2022: Addressing talent challenges for the future workforce.
Matt Keen is director of construction strategy at Autodesk.
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