Michael Slater, Regional Operations Manager of Western Thermal, discusses how we can bring more people into the construction industry and counter an aging workforce.
There is no doubt that the construction industry is going through a phenomenal change. Many workers in the sector are aging, and the total number of workers over the age of 60 has increased significantly more than any other age group.
As a result, the skills gap has continued to grow over time and is now at the point of causing serious issues to businesses as they cannot meet the growing demands leaving them with an urgent need to compensate for the experience they will lose.
Construction companies must not only help capture the knowledge they have but also find ways to appeal to the younger generation, which will be pivotal to bring back more balance to the skills gap.
Firstly, the UK government has taken steps to help produce and entice the next group of workers to the field. In April 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy scheme was launched with the promise of high-quality training and support to help develop and increase productivity.
According to many in the industry, the Levy hasn’t achieved what was expected, but it’s a positive start.
For years, construction has been much slower in incorporating technology than other industries. However, with more complex projects, rising demand and higher workloads, technology will bring about many advantages.
In China, the introduction of 3D printing saw the capability for houses to be produced in less than 24 hours. This concept has arguably changed the industry and, although it is still in the early stages, the overall efficiency and economic impact are clear.
This sort of technology will prove vital in the UK, especially as it aims to meet its housing targets with a growing population. The next generation will be more aware and more adapting of this technology and will come with the skills required to not only take on these roles but evolve them.
Another way to address the skills gap is by attracting more women. Currently, only around 13.5% make up the construction workforce, with many put off by its male-dominated culture, pay gap, and career progression. This means that encouraging diversity and highlighting the opportunities construction offers can make it more appealing.
By involving a diverse workforce, we will be able to provide new ways of thinking and different perspectives to help take companies into new directions instead of following the same cycle, which has held the industry back. To emphasise this further, having more women in important roles will only attract more people to get into the industry and help it flourish.
On a similar note, by encouraging construction to be seen as an academic discipline in school, many young people would be open to considering it as a career. As it is not featured in subjects found at GCSE or A Level, many will immediately dismiss it as a potential path.
By introducing this as part of the curriculum, the construction industry will be able to educate people on the options available to them within it. This can encourage new opportunities, like work experience, for a workforce to kick-start itself once again.
It is clear that the construction industry is currently at a crossroads. It needs to adapt in order to survive. With the UK set to leave the EU, even more challenges will begin to come its way as they are likely to be met with more shortages.
By addressing the skills gap now, companies will be able to prepare the next generation of workers to help build a successful business and industry. There are a number of options available to businesses to do this and it is up to them to take the initiative, or risk falling even further behind.