The construction industry is ever evolving and adapting, with the advent of digital tools, the drive to net zero and ongoing demands for new housing and infrastructure, among other things. However, an issue the industry has faced for more than a decade – and one of the main barriers in moving our sector forward at pace – is a serious skills shortage.
The skills gap in construction is a constant theme in conversations with CIOB members and will require several different measures to address it. We want to help tackle the skills gap and have it as one of three key themes in our latest corporate plan. Our ambition to help reduce the skills gap is entirely in keeping with our public interest remit. As an institute, we undertake to help improve the quality of life for those both creating and using the built environment and play a part in ensuring the built environment is fit for a changing society and a growing population. Globally, most construction markets are reporting a skilled labour shortage – but I want to share a key figure to illustrate how big the skills gap in the UK really is.
The Construction Skills Network forecast published by the Construction Industry Training Board earlier this year says that 225,000 additional workers will be required to meet UK construction demand by 2027. That is an additional 45,000 workers per year to keep up with demand. Not to deliver new infrastructure projects, not to take on work for major conservation efforts, not for the additional housebuilding that is desperately needed. Just to keep up with demand. Most industry professionals are aware that we work in an industry which is a key driver of the economy, in which demand will probably always out-strip supply, and in which we can actively recruit into sustainable and often well-paid roles, with opportunities to do something positive, things which can leave a legacy.
However, before we look at what we are doing to address the skills gap, it is important to acknowledge a couple of the main reasons for the shortfall.
The first is that there is an ageing workforce in construction. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimate that up to 750,000 construction workers could retire or be on the verge of retiring over the next 15 years. Secondly, there is a perception that a career in construction is something of a fall-back position. This perception is being eroded but not quickly enough. Built environment careers are often not seen by those making their career choices – or their influencers – as rewarding, well paid or interesting.
CIOB is doing a number of things to support bringing new entrants into the industry, as their first career choice or as a career change option. As a fundamental part of what we do, we create accessible pathways into the industry, through our free student memberships, apprenticeship assessment work, mentoring programme, access to free CPD resources and, this year, the creation of a new membership grade (TechCIOB) specifically for technicians and specialists.
We are also making strides in helping to attract a new, more diverse workforce, not just looking to our own membership but also in partnership with other professional bodies across the built environment sector. This is a crucial part of addressing the skills gap as so many groups are currently under-represented. Better diversity and inclusion also serve to deliver high-quality buildings and infrastructure that are inclusive and accessible to all. We must also help the industry compete for talent, championing and promoting the built environment and engaging with careers advisors, schools and colleges via our network of members who are also STEM Ambassadors. We have also undertaken to help improve the perception – and reality – of working in the industry, by campaigning on worker welfare issues, taking a strong stance on the issues that impact those working in construction. A recent example, with the charge being led by CIOB President Sandi Rhys Jones FCIOB, is our #PPEThatFits campaign, encouraging manufacturers and contractors to ensure there is PPE available to fit anyone who needs to stay safe on site.
Let’s also remember that retention is as important as recruitment – we want to upskill and support those already in the industry. We encourage ongoing professional and personal development with CPD requirements, which can be met in different ways. The CIOB Academy is also constantly adding to the training and CPD resources available, much of which is free, aiming to anticipate the industry’s future needs.
There is reason to be positive about the construction sector and I sense more of an appetite to tackle long-standing issues, including the skills gap. I invite anyone in the industry wanting to help close the skills gap to consider joining the STEM Ambassador programme: https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors