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Why is there a skills shortage in UK construction?

Posted on 20/12/2019 at 11:27 AM by in Blog

A shortage in skilled workers has been a problem in the UK construction industry for quite some time now, but it’s really beginning to reach its boiling point as we head into 2020.

With an ageing workforce set to retire within the next few years and a clear lack of interest from young people, the construction industry looks to be in for a shock.

What are the problems with the skills shortage?

According to City & Guilds, 1 in 20 construction companies feel like their workforce doesn’t have the correct skills for now or the future – so what does that say about the quality of work being carried out?

A general shortage in skills means that many companies are not able to complete projects on time or on budget, with delays being very common due to lack of personnel. Companies are losing out because of these setbacks and budget blowouts, and the projects themselves are suffering due to a lack of skilled workers to complete the work.

A shortage in skilled workers really puts the industry in a bad way, leading to many smaller companies folding as a result.

What is the cause of the skills shortage?

One of the biggest reasons behind the skill shortage that the UK construction industry is currently facing is its ageing population, with a good portion of workers being on the older side, some upwards of fifty and sixty.

This confirms something that has been an issue for a long time, in the fact that construction is failing to get young people interested in a career in this sector. But why is this?

Construction is generally seen as one of the UK’s least digitalised industries, and young people have taken notice of this. In a world where technology is introduced essentially from birth, the young generation of today have spent their entire lives becoming fluent in modern technology.

A career in an industry that fails to recognise the potential of new tech doesn’t sound very appealing to someone just leaving school, and this failure to grow with the times leaves construction feeling like a relic.

Maybe it’s also due to the fact that construction is still perceived as a male dominated industry, or the idea that every construction worker is a typical “bloke’s bloke”. These dated concepts can easily put someone off the idea of a career in construction.

Luckily the industry is trying to shake this idea of construction being a “man’s world” and there are so many amazing organisations trying to get more women involved in construction, but we need to show today’s youth that construction in an inclusive industry for everyone.

The construction industry is not just made up of physical labour, but roles in project management, architectural design and quantity surveying – and young people are likely failing to see this side of things. As silly as it sounds, many young people who are fresh out of school or university aren’t too keen to apply for a job that involves “getting dirty doing manual work outside”.

So that begs the question…

How do we get young people involved in a career in construction?

In order to get younger people interested in a potential career in this industry, things need to change.

The industry needs to be implementing modern technology into construction practises, allowing young people to utilise their digital skills and apply it to business procedures. They also need to make training readily available online, and offer support this way.

Promoting the variety of roles available in construction, including project managers, architects, surveyors, and challenging the idea of construction being a male dominated industry is key.

Focusing on implementing renewable technology and researching more sustainable and safe methods of construction work, such as modular buildings are also fundamental.

Investing more in apprenticeships and turning them into skilled workers that would prove useful for years to come. Putting apprentices in a position where they are able to be offered a permanent position after the apprenticeship is complete and giving them a clear path of opportunity and support could kickstart the industry.

There has been so many instances of companies taking on apprentices to complete a job, only to not continue with them once the project is finished as a means of cheap labour.

We need to remember that the most important factors that any young person considers when looking for a job is stability and pay.

Jobs that can offer a permanent role with regular hours and a competitive rate of pay are always going to stand out, with many young people needing this kind of steady job and income to save and apply for mortgages.

With many companies in other sectors offering zero-hour contracts, this is where construction can really pull through and offer stable work with good pay.

The industry needs young people with fresh ideas in order to grow, so we need to be doing everything we can to encourage the next generation of construction workers.

Getting in with schools and colleges is a big thing as well, showcasing exactly what a career in construction could bring and the different roles and career paths that could be available to them.

What else can be done?

The skills shortage in the UK is not just down to a lack of new faces or too many old builders, but a serious lack of development and progression amongst teams.

Construction companies need to be investing in the staff they currently have, offering room for improvement through the likes of online training courses and a support system that will keep them learning, benefiting both the team and the employees.

A skilled workforce allows for a smoother project, advancing at a quicker pace due to workers having the right skill level to complete the task in orderly fashion.

Invest in your workers and reap the benefits of a better workforce.

Will Brexit have an effect?

There are many concerns from companies across the industry that Brexit will have a huge effect on construction, with many skilled workers having to potentially leave the country because of immigration issues post-Brexit.

The idea of free movement being removed following Brexit could leave the skill shortage situation much, much worse, so this needs to be avoided at all costs. With an estimated 165,000 roles in construction being filled with EU nationals, this would be a huge blow to the UK industry.

With the future still uncertain and many of us still not in the know about what Brexit could do to the industry, we need to be working with the Government to ensure the jobs of thousands of EU workers in a post-Brexit UK.


Everyone is always looking at someone else to address and fix the skill shortage in construction, but it’s something that everyone needs to be working on together. We can only change the industry for the better if we work together, with industry wide collaboration needed to address this shortage of skilled workers in the UK.

What do you think the best solution is for closing the gap on skills shortage? Let’s get the conversation started.

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