How Construction Can Move Forwards from Skill Shortages after Brexit and COVID-19’s Impact on the Workforce
It’s no secret that the construction industry have suffered setbacks more than most from the current skill shortages. With stringent reforms on non-UK hiring and knock-on effects from COVID-19, vacancy filling has become quite a feat.
Post Brexit, London alone has seen a 40,000 person decrease in EU construction workers between 2019 and 2021 (ONS Labour Force Survey, second quarter data for 2019 and 2021). This is yet another factor making current salary inflation for in-demand skills especially strenuous on construction companies, already struggling to retain manpower.
Whilst external factors mean challenges ahead, companies are seeking solutions from within, rethinking old strategies, and finding new ways to adapt. With a reduced pool of workers, budget cuts, and project delays, emerging with a competitive and resourceful mindset is key.
So, what are some potential ways construction companies can navigate skill shortages?
Improving DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) in Recruiting
Construction is widely known to have remained demographically limited. According to CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building), 15% of women (only 2% of which are on-site), 6% of ethnic minorities and 6% of disabled individuals make up the collective UK construction workforce.
Because of this, many companies will have overlooked talent and business advancement opportunities. In fact, diverse teams report better job satisfaction and are 83% more innovative (Deloitte, Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance—2013).
According to Mckinsey & Company, it also pays to be inclusive; companies with diverse and inclusive workforces are 35% more likely to achieve above-average returns. That means widening your talent sourcing is a critical future investment.
Digital Transformation for Increased Productivity and Value Propositions
The construction industry have always been strategic traditionalists. According to HMRC (Research and Development Tax Credit Statistics September 2020), only 1% of construction firms came forwards to claim their R&D (Research & Development) tax relief from 2018 to 2019.
It’s not surprising given the industry’s known resistance to change. And it’s a strong indication that adoption of new technology is currently low priority—especially given recent financial setbacks.
However, digital transformation may be the key to addressing skill shortages. And for some companies it may even prove to be a matter of survival. The potential for tech in construction is wide-reaching. With the capacity to automate repetitive duties, streamline processes and innovate projects, tech can not only lessen the pressure of skill shortages but increase productivity too.
Technology can also open the door to new talent for the industry. With a rapidly retiring workforce and lack of young people interested in filling the gap, new tech orientated careers may be the key to increasing job value propositions. With this, we could see a generation of digital natives driving tech innovation for construction. This would allow the industry not only to recover—but evolve too.
Upskilling the Existing Workforce and Building Resilience to Skill Shortages
In promoting an environment of curiosity and knowledge sharing, skills can be multiplied from within your company. By providing training for career development, your workforce can go from simply clocking in and out each day to being proactive in seeking knowledge. This is another means to increase value propositions for construction jobs and combat its reputation as a low skill/low wage sector.
Whilst formal training and qualifications can bring great results, it’s a financially unviable option for many at this time. However, keeping open lines of dialogue and sharing high-quality free resources can increase internal skills with the right guidance.
One highly recommended free resource is Supply Chain Sustainability School. This is an industry-standard learning platform providing structured online education and self-assessment tools. It’s part-funded by the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) and draws upon best practices of industry leaders like Costain and Skanka.
A Way Forwards…
Whilst there’s no quick fix for skill shortages, a granular approach across business functions can help produce targeted solutions. With carefully thought-out investments, structural adjustments and strategic use of resources, construction companies can tackle skill shortages head-on.
Though further challenges are expected, there are also development opportunities. And in maintaining a competitive approach, the industry can not only survive but progress and innovate to new levels too.