The chronic construction skills shortage in Swindon and the South West could be tackled within a few years if more contractors worked with local schools to improve careers advice and engage students at an early age, suggests Marc Bayley, director of top regional construction company Beard in Swindon.
His comments follow the latest UK Construction Market Survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which reports almost half of construction firms in the region are struggling to recruit skilled workers due to an ageing workforce and fewer young people choosing construction careers.
“Unfortunately, only a few young people see construction as a viable, well-paid and exciting industry to work in because careers information at school is generally inadequate and outdated,” said Marc Bayley. “There is also a perception that construction is an unsophisticated and physically demanding industry to work in that’s unsuited to women, which is not the case. Our industry needs to recruit many more women if we are going to resolve the current skills crisis. Young men and women are sadly missing out on a huge range of fantastic, high-salary career opportunities in construction which require all sorts of different skills-sets and specialisms.”
Marc added: “Construction firms across the region are ideally placed to promote these careers and inspire and recruit the next generation of professionals and trades people but we need to get much more active and involved in schools and colleges. We’re up against stiff competition from other industries which are doing a much better job of attracting the best young people into their sectors because they are enthusing students from an early age.”
According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the industry will need more than 36,000 new workers annually to cover current building demand. A recent RICS UK Construction Survey reports that construction firms are struggling to recruit this workforce with bricklayers and quantity surveyors in particularly short supply.
Beard, which has been offering structured training schemes for school leavers and graduates for many years, says the workforce is changing and construction firms need to become much more savvy and proactive in their recruitment strategies. “We can’t wait for bright and talented young people to come to us, we need to go into schools and colleges and inspire and engage them in the classroom – that’s where we are going to win hearts and minds,” explains Marc. “We also have to build better relationships with careers advisors, teachers and parents and ensure they have high quality information and materials which provide accurate and informed advice.”
Construction is one of the largest industries in the UK, employing around 2.1 million workers and about 10% of the country’s workforce. But the industry faces a rapidly greying population with huge levels of retirement over the coming years and fewer new entrants. While the sector could be providing thousands of young people with an exciting and valuable career, construction’s ‘low-status’ image is crippling its ability to attract and train the skilled workforce it needs to deliver Swindon and the region’s growing construction output which is stifling economic growth.
“Students need to know that building London’s Olympic Park, a life-saving hospital or a cutting-edge university research facility, is as exciting and important as a career in finance, medicine or IT,” said Marc. “We need to be communicating this to youngsters when they are in primary school so they have a positive image of construction from an early age. We also need to work more collaboratively with teachers and careers advisors on industry-related educational visits, special building projects and fun activities which can be linked to the school curriculum.”
He added: “By stepping into the classroom and sharing insights about apprenticeships, work placements and our own career paths, we can help young people make informed choices. We can also advise them on the skill-sets and qualifications they’ll need to succeed in the digital construction world of the future.”