The construction industry is facing a shortage of a quarter of a million workers within the next four years because of labour market changes triggered by Brexit and the Covid pandemic.
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has estimated that to meet demand for housebuilding, infrastructure projects, repairs and maintenance, the sector’s workforce must grow to reach 2.78 million by 2026. However, current projections suggest it will be 266,000 workers short, the Board stated in a new report, with 50,000 recruits needed a year.
Demand for construction skills has increased throughout the UK with the most critical skills shortages being seen in carpentry, joiners and construction managers. Understaffing has also been growing in areas such as electrical and civil engineering.
Tim Balcon, CITB chief executive, said recruiting such high numbers would be “a challenge as there is more competition from other sectors and fewer available people”.
He said he recognised that the construction sector needed to become much more progressive in recruitment. “We have to attract and retain those that are under-represented, in particular women and those from ethnic minorities,” he said.
“It will be a major task, but construction needs to evolve and to reach its untapped potential for the national economy and our competitiveness on a global scale.”
Balcon added that 45,000 overseas workers had left the UK industry and not returned and that a lot of skilled workers, especially those in their fifties, had re-appraised their lives during pandemic lockdowns and had left the sector.
The construction sector has launched a number of initiatives to increase its appeal to a wider cross-section of society with industry body the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) appointing a head of equality, diversity and inclusion in 2021.
The institute has reported that women make up 15% of the UK construction industry, but with only 2% working on site. Minority ethnic groups make up 6% of the workforce, a similar proportion to those with disabilities. Most LGBTQ employees (60%) in the industry say they have been subject to derogatory terms at work.
Many in the sector are hoping that the application of advance tech, such as 3-D modelling of buildings, the use of robotics, automatic excavators and drones will attract more people into the industry. Furthermore, more construction is moving into manufacturing plants as modular construction becomes more widespread. “Factories can be more pleasant places to work than a muddy exposed site,” one construction sector analyst told Personnel Today.
He added that with growing awareness of construction’s large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, there was great scope for younger, more eco-minded, to be encouraged to join the sector as it moves to improve its environment-friendliness.