Skills, age, gender – Bridging the gap in construction

The skills gap in the construction sector is not a new phenomenon but has been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic. From the self employed to large enterprises, all have their unique take.  

Construction is a unique sector, unique in the way that is sees more self-employed than any other sector in the UK. Of the 4.95 million self-employed individuals in the UK, 920,000 work in construction. Whilst the impact of the skills gap is lessened on large companies, many of these self-employed are SMEs (small to medium enterprises). This group in particular has a hard time finding tradespeople with the right skills, so why does the construction sector have a skills gap and what can we do about it?

The first point to address is the ageing workforce. Something that effecting technical industries, such as manufacturing, is having quite an impact on the construction sector. An interesting statistic shows that in the US the median age of the construction workforce has reached 42. That’s not dissimilar to what we see in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Building surveyed 2,096 construction workers and asked their thoughts on the ageing workforce.  

You can see from the results that this issue is a cause for concern from all those in the industry regardless of age. Whilst the government tried to address this with extending the retirement age, this does not solve the problem. In fact, when the same survey asked those in the profession if the retirement age should be raised, more than half (54%) said no. But these figures focus on the wrong end of the telescope. The issue here isn’t those in the industry leaving it, is the reduction of young people entering – with Brexit looming and the further reduction in new skilled workers it’s an issue that is set to continue.

But, why aren’t young people choosing construction in the first place? One reason could be the negative image associated with the construction industry – no matter how wrong and out-dated that may be. The construction sector is at the forefront of new digital technologies with workers from all walks of life achieving truly amazing things. In fact, more than a third (34%) of workers in construction consider their own career as the most fulfilling. More than double the next highest-ranking occupation – telecoms, media and technology at 15%. This is completely juxtaposed with the public’s perception where only 3% perceive construction as the most fulfilling sector. There is a clear lost message here and a huge disconnect, and it comes down to education. Construction has moved on for the better, regulation and workers’ rights have created a professional environment but this negative perception is stopping parents encouraging their children to pursue it as a career path. It is also holding back construction from addressing an issue very close to us at Velocity Recruitment and that is the gender divide in the sector.

Construction remains a male dominated sector which is a hindrance to its progress. Diversity is a requirement for any industry to succeed, not only offering varying differing perspectives and better decision making, but it is our responsibility! I hate to think how many people were put off construction based purely on the outdated perception without an understanding of the fulfilling careers available.

No matter your background, if you think construction could be for you it probably is! Do your research, look around and talk to us about potential careers and most importantly don’t be swayed by an outdated perception of a very forward-thinking industry that is integral to society.