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How the Skills Gap has Affected the Government’s Homebuilding Targets

It’s no secret that the construction industry
is currently facing an increasingly large skills shortage. The industry has
long suffered from a lack of skilled workers, making it more difficult than
ever to hit deadlines due to the shrinking talent pool.

This is a big problem for the government,
whose plans to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s is becoming more
of a pipe dream. In fact, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS),
the lack of skilled construction workers is at its highest point since 2007. In
order to get back on track, the industry needs to recruit over 200,000 more
workers by 2020.

Below, industry experts at Vizwear
explore what problems the skills shortage in construction is causing for the
government’s homebuilding targets — and what companies can do to help fill key
positions.

What’s causing the skills
shortage?

The main problem that’s contributing towards
the skills shortage is that as a whole, the construction industry is still
battling with an image problem.

“The industry needs to attract a fresh
workforce to keep up with demands”, says Daniel Ure from online PPE retailer
Vizwear. “But for many on the outside, the thought of working in construction
still conjures up images of wolf-whistling workmen on building sites. To
attract a new stream of workers, the industry needs to shake this negative
image and show how the industry has developed.”

It’s not just the difficulties of attracting
new employees that are causing a skills shortage, though: it’s also due to the
current workers.

Data from the 2011 census showed that in the construction
industry, one in five employees were aged over 55. This means that by the early
2020s, when the industry should be hitting its homebuilding targets, most will
have reached or be close to retirement age. An ageing workforce and an uphill
recruitment battle are a combination that could have a detrimental effect on
the industry.

What steps can be taken to close
the gap?

The biggest barrier facing the construction
industry is presenting itself as a desirable career path to potential
employees. Although often seen in a bad light, there are fantastic
opportunities to be had in construction, including mechanics, engineering and
electronics.

There are a number of ways that construction
companies can reach out to the right candidates and ensure them that a career
in construction is exactly what they’re looking for.

1. Increase education

To ensure that the future workforce in
construction is vibrant and engaged, young people need to be re-educated about
what construction is really like

A survey created by L&Q Group discovered
that only one in ten children between the ages of 16 and 18 would consider a
career in construction, fearing that the industry would be ‘challenging and
unexciting’. Although around 50% said that they were interested in a Science,
Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) career, the construction industry
simply wasn’t appealing enough. Interestingly, though, the students who said
they would consider a construction career said that their reasoning was due to
the excitement of the role.

Working closely with schools and colleges to
promote the industry is a great way to show young people that there are a
number of avenues their career path can take in construction. By setting up a
formal work experience programme, you can attract future workers with real,
hands-on experience to give students the chance to experience the industry for
themselves.

2. Don’t neglect training

By offering proper training programmes,
construction companies have the opportunity to help close the skills gap with
new talent. It’s not just labour-intensive roles that are suffering from the
skills shortage —  there is also a demand
for tech and digital skills.

But rather than looking externally for these
roles, use it as an opportunity to upskill your current staff. Nurturing talent
within your business is great for morale; plus, you’ll help to develop your
team’s careers, skill sets and better utilise ambitious and forward-thinking
workers.

The training involved with upskilling current
workers can be as simple as one-on-one mentoring, or you can make use of the
wide range of online and practical courses available for skill development.

There are also government-funded schemes
available to help train future construction workers. For instance, we are
currently in the middle of an 18-month fund set up by the government, launched
with a budget of £22 million. This scheme launched 20 on-site hubs, of which
people looking to join the industry, as well as people switching careers, can
apply their knowledge in a real-world environment.

3. Look for skilled workers in
the right places

Ensuring that next-generation workers are
knowledgeable about the industry is vital, but there are other skilled groups that
are waiting to be snapped up by the industry.

For example, over 14,000 leave the military every year,
meaning the construction industry has a pool of highly trained individuals with
transferable skills at their disposal. There are a number of companies that
have already reaped the benefits of military leavers, and even provide
specialist training and learning credits to get them fully trained as soon as
possible.

Military leavers offer the unique opportunity
for construction firms to hire workers that can effectively follow
instructions, work well as a team and can keep calm under pressure. It’s a
unique opportunity that is too good to pass up.

4. Address the gender imbalance

Part of the problem is that construction is a
historically male-dominated industry. Between 2007 and 2016, reports found that the number of women workers
in construction only rose by 0.7%, resulting in an incredibly low 12.8% total.
But it’s not just workers in the industry, nearly half of construction workers claimed
that they have never had a female manager.

Whatever the role, women in construction are
being overlooked. As women make up half of the population, it seems crazy that
the industry is ignoring so much potential talent that it sorely needs to help
fill the skills gap.

Educating female students is a crucial step
that companies need to take, as only 22% currently work with schools to help
break the stigma of construction. But it’s not just about attracting more women
to the industry — companies need to make sure they’re not ignoring their
current talent due to their gender. For example, the international
infrastructure group Balfour Beatty has taken strides to address gender
inequality by introducing an initiative to support women through career breaks
for childcare.

5. Embrace modern methods of
construction

The government has already been warned by the
Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that an over-reliance on
traditional building methods will see the UK fall short of its home-building
targets.

To keep the industry on target, construction
companies need to look outside the norm and embrace more modern techniques.
From off-site construction, manufacturing and assembly to modular
constructions, there are a number of avenues companies can take to improve
efficiency while maintaining quality.

“The construction industry is always
changing,” says Daniel Ure from online PPE retailer Vizwear.
“We’re constantly seeing exciting new innovations that allow us to work smarter
and more efficiently.”

“In order to make the most of new industry
methods, it’s vital that new talent is found to close the skills gap.
Construction is still trying to shake off its past image, but by pooling its
resources into educating and training future generations and current talent,
the industry can ensure it’s recruiting the right workers to hit its
targets.” 

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