FACT: Construction has and always will be a huge part of the UK economy, contributing close to 7% of GDP and approx. 10% of UK employment.
On the one hand, recessions, reduced government spending in certain areas, an unsettled and volatile divide in the political arena, the massive rise and then significant overnight collapse of renewable energy tariffs, the decline of PVC, the pressures to minimise the use of plastic to reduce the UKs carbon footprint, and a significant amount of businesses entering into terminal decline are just a few of the external factors that have affected the construction Industry. But at the same time, infrastructure and construction is also high on the political agenda in other areas since the dreadful tragedy of Grenfell, the increase in highly sophisticated and complex projects to boost the economy and the fact that billions is being pumped in as investment to support a growing population. So if we take all the above, alongside a significant amount of other critical factors the sector is in hugely difficult and unpredictable times.
BUT, and this is a huge but – this doesn’t even touch the surface of the overall enormity of the crisis as added to that construction now has an aging workforce with close to 40% being over 50 years of age, and is losing the younger generations to the image, reputation and excitement of – let’s say- far more appealing or attractive sectors.
WHY? – Undoubtedly this is a sixty-four-million-dollar question – but initial opinions would seem to turn to the fact that people still have the overriding perception that construction still has a poor reputation with images in people’s minds that it’s – dirty and cold work – weather dependent and irregular wages – only for people who didn’t do well at school – and is for people who can’t get a ‘proper’ job.
Now for some trades – being outside in all weathers is exactly the case – but the other images of the sector are not only untrue, but highly disrespectful of the people who work in the Industry – who are skilled tradespeople and have learned their craft – probably from bottom up – and have designed and produced not only some of the most architecturally stunning buildings that sit within the UK’s landscape – but have painstakingly built the infrastructure that we all live and breathe in – therefore to those that say that the individuals who work in the Industry are only doing it because they can’t do anything else – should maybe spend a week in the shoes of others before they judge the sector.
Now, numerous authors can produce and write articles about the subject and – in fairness – already have, and significant positive in-roads have been made into the issue – all of which are extremely noteworthy and positive advancements, but the fact is, the skills shortage in the industry is still a huge issue.
So what do we do?
Well firstly, if there was a simple solution – then we wouldn’t still be talking about it as there are enough people in the Industry that would have solved and implemented it by now – so the solution has to be a collaborative and joined-up approach from all parties in the Industry – no matter how big or small a part they play.
Whilst the “big players” will already have a huge platform that they can springboard off of – they should also take note from all the smaller SME’s which make up- what is an incredibly diverse Industry – and let’s face it – with such a huge crisis looming – all people in the Industry need to stop thinking this is someone else’s problem to solve – and play an active part themselves – no matter how small or insignificant they may feel it is as ‘no input is invaluable input’.
And when we say this needs to be a collaborative approach – it has to be true collaboration – not everyone out there for themselves and what they can gain from it – because if the Industry does not all work together then – put simply – everyone loses out.
So what must the recommendations and action plan be?
There is no one-step approach to this but as a holistic overview of the subject all of the below must be aligned in order to start to tackle the crisis.
- The Government and commissioning authorities have to act quickly to get this topic into primary schools – taking this to middle and upper and FE level is just too late.
- More effort needs to be placed on putting construction on the curriculum – and for the momentum to be continued throughout the entire education span – including up to adult training.
- Careers advisors need to actively promote the sector and not push it aside for other “more sexy” industries.
- Parents need to be guided and have more knowledge about the sector in order to eradicate the poor reputation and perceptions that sit within the Industry.
- Parents need to promote true diversity within their own households and if their girls want to play with guns and bricks and their boys with dolls and dress-up – then they should – we need to stop the perception that everything for girls has to be “pink” and everything for boys is “blue” – there are billions of different colours and we should embrace everyone as an individual in their own right and not judge or criticise anyone for being themselves.
- Point (6) also needs to have a seamless flow throughout the entire education system and there should be no ‘gentle persuasion’ towards any gender stereo-typing – in fact quite the opposite – schools of all levels should actively promote diversity as a hugely positive feature (which is happening far more now thanks to positive promotion).
- We need to significantly work on the fact that the Construction sector still only contains 13% female workforce when females make up 50% of the population! – and whilst this is another entire article in its own right – this has to be done – via the top leading MEN in the Industry –they need to stand up and voice their opinions on the crucial necessity to stop the harassment of all types that some men still give to females in the Industry – which puts off all but the thickest skinned women to do what is the right career for them.
- There has to be the acknowledgement that whilst the sector has – in the past – been a male dominated industry – that there is actually space for all to play a crucial and active part going forward no matter what age-colour-gender-sexual preference or disability and say to ourselves that the world is made up of entirely unique individuals and they all have a huge part to play in the industry which needs to come into the 21st century and fully reflect what today’s society is.
- Whilst the crisis in itself can only start to be turned around from primary school onwards – once we have managed to attract the next generation into the sector employers need to be educated in how to retain staff – otherwise the sector will end up again in a vicious circle of trying to attract from the same small pool of skilled candidates as others will have left the industry due to not being treated well by companies, untrained managers and/or unwanted treatment from colleagues which forces them to move on.
Based on the above more initiatives and campaigns need to target our primary schools like the excellent promotional work that has been undertaken by CITB – ‘Go Construct’ and initiatives to bring local schools to construction events to start to bridge the gap on diversity.
Lanes Employment Solutions is the go-to HR and Business Solution provider to the Construction industry and is also tirelessly working to promote the sector to school children in their local area of Northamptonshire and beyond with a “Let’s BUILD” Campaign – but we need help and collaboration from others to start this initiative.
Whilst this alone will nowhere near eradicate the overall UK crisis – it is again knowledge that there are smaller companies out there that want to make a positive impact to try and play their small part in trying to help solve the problem.
Working with Councils, Schools & Multi-Academy Trusts, Colleges, Universities, awarding bodies and training providers, Lanes Solutions is looking for construction employers of all trades and sizes who can support the Campaign.
If you feel you can help play a part in helping continue to promote the Industry to our next generation then please contact us for more information:
All we can ask if for all Industry players to keep bearing in mind that this is a REAL PROBLEM and it will take intervention from everyone to solve.
A MAJOR CRISIS? YES
IMPOSSIBLE TO SOLVE – Absolutely not!
Kids need Knowledge
Teenagers need Training
Adults need Advice