The shortage of skilled workers is a problem for the construction industry and the economy, since the construction industry is responsible for providing housing.
The UK construction industry is finally emerging from a protracted recession and order books are filling up with projects such as the £1 billion Silvertown Tunnel project in London, the possibility of a second runway at Gatwick with the airport already appoint Bechtel as management contractor for the project and other relatively smaller projects such as the £245 million University Halls refurbishment project in Manchester. In short there is an increasing volume of work for organisations within the construction industry (Construction Index 2016). The only difficulty is that there is a skills gap in the construction industry, which could threaten the viability of the sector and its ability to cope with future work (Whitelaw 2016). Why does the construction industry struggle to maintain sufficient skill base in the UK and why does this matter?
Workloads in the construction industry are cyclical and susceptible to fluctuations in the economy, as evident by the fact that the industry employs over 324,000 fewer workers than in 2008, when it experienced a severe downturn in workloads and productivity. It is suggested that uncertainty regarding future employment combined with the often harsh working conditions, long hours and the dynamic, stressful nature of the work are key barriers to attracting skilled workers to the sector (Neal 2016). As a result, the industry has over time become more reliant on migrant works at all skill levels, with an estimated 10-12% of the current 2.1 million workforce coming from outside the UK (Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), 2015). It is argued that the uncertainties surrounding Brexit could exacerbate the skills gap as uncertainty regarding working rights and permits could deter these workers from entering the UK market (Neal 2016).
The shortage of skilled workers is a major problem for the construction industry and the economy, given that the construction industry is responsible for providing housing, services and infrastructure which support the social and commercial fabric of British society. In addition, the skills gap could increase wages in the industry which could increase the costs of construction at a time when the UK Government is trying to streamline the industry (Neal 2016; HM Government 2013). The solution is to address the issue at secondary education level, encouraging young people into the industry and at the same time retain what Whitelaw (2016) terms the older workers who have the skills and experience to fill the shortage of middle managers in design and construction roles.
Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), 2015. CIOB Perspectives: An analysis on migration in the construction sector. Bracknell: CIOB.
Construction Index, 2016. Contract News. [online]. Available at < http://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/contract-news > [accessed 11th October 2016].
Neal, M., 2016. The Guardian “Millennials are the key to construction’s skills shortage, we need to engage them”. [online]. Available at < https://www.theguardian.com/lendlease-redesigning-cities-zone/2016/jul/26/millennials-are-the-key-to-constructions-skills-shortage-we-need-to-engage-them > [accessed 12th October 2016].
Whitelaw, J., 11th October 2016 New Civil Engineer “Tackling ageism is key to skills shortage” [online]. Available at < https://www.newcivilengineer.com/engineering-equality/tackling-ageism-is-key-to-skills-shortage/10012636.article > [accessed 12th October 2016].