Working together to attract next generation of skilled workers

Glen Hampson

By Glen Hampson, business development manager, construction, at Kubota UK

WITH the construction sector hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis in recent months, it’s more important than ever that we continue to make smart investments to support the industry moving forward. In his Summer Statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak noted that the industry is set to play a key role in restarting the economy and helping the nation to recover from the impact of the crisis.

 But, in order to fulfil this promise, construction companies and the government need to work together to overcome a significant challenge; the skills gap. Only 694 construction, planning and built environment apprenticeships were started in March 2019, which is a reduction by almost half compared to the previous year. With political events and cultural changes taking their toll, fewer and fewer talented individuals are finding themselves attracted to a career in construction. 

We need to act now to boost recruitment and training in the UK. Unless companies working across the sector are able to provide the younger generation with the schemes and the experience needed to excel in a career in construction, the industry – and therefore the UK’s economy – is likely to be impacted well into the future.

Changing attitudes

Recent research discovered that only one in ten children between the ages of 16 and 18 would consider a career in the construction industry, fearing that it would be ‘challenging and unexciting’. It’s clear that the image of ‘construction’ needs an urgent overhaul. The first step towards rebuilding the workforce will be to change perceptions and educate at a grass roots level.

The benefits of a career in construction are clear, but they also need to be shouted about around young people. It’s a highly valued sector within the wider UK economy – even more so, given its new standing in the Covid-19 recovery plan. There is no shortage of jobs and there is a huge potential for professional growth. In fact, for specialist roles – such as operators – the pay is extremely competitive. Add to this that transferable skills from a wide range of other backgrounds are welcome and it’s easy to see that construction could be a really fulfilling profession that will last a lifetime.

Those in the industry need to ensure that positive messages are being heard by potential talent. They also need to ensure that any uncertainty is dispelled – perhaps through the reduction of zero-hour contracts or more clarity around paid apprenticeships. It is only then that old perceptions can be changed and new opinions formed.

 Working together

Programmes and apprenticeship schemes that offer real, hands-on experience and placements within the wider industry – like Kubota’s –  must also be encouraged and supported if we are to attract talent. For many, an apprenticeship scheme will act as an introduction to the industry and showcase how beneficial a career in construction could be. For example, the majority of school-leavers, wrongly, assume that construction work is simply made up of traditional practices and methods. 

They are often more attracted to pursuing a career in technology. But the reality is that modern technologies such as AI, virtual reality and even 3D printing are increasingly becoming a part of the construction industry. Although they’re not commonplace just yet, each apprenticeship scheme should try and expose its students to some aspect of the latest technological advancements being utilised within the industry, to showcase just what the future might hold. 

This will make it a more exciting, attractive career prospect for both junior talent as well as those looking to move from another industry.

In order to deliver these schemes and apprenticeships, every organisation and every individual working within the industry has a collective responsibility to plug the skills gap and inspire the next generation. Last year, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association’s chief executive Alasdair Reisner, called for the industry and the government to work together to boost recruitment and training in the UK’s construction sector. This has never been more important. If companies working across the sector are able to provide the schemes and the experience needed to excel in a career in construction, and if the government is able to support them in doing this, the skills shortage will no doubt, reduce.