‘We cannot build back better without the builders. The construction sector wants to be at the heart of the UK’s drive to net-zero emissions and a low carbon economy but recognises it does not yet have the skills it will need to do this’ – Oscar Watkins, IPPR construction sector leader
A major upheaval in the construction’s workforce is needed, experts say, to make sure that the UK’s economy is given the support it needs to recover and thrive in the years to come.
Recent reports have caused concern to industry leaders, but offer substantial hope for those thinking of entering the construction industry. The workforce is, and has been for years, experiencing a long-term skills crisis. Its population of tradespeople is ageing, and a massive gap is opening up, meaning that well-paid, long-term work will flood the market for at least the decade to come.
A recent study, conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), that only 20% of construction workers are under 30 years old. The IPPR has also estimated that 750,000 construction workers will retire, or will be on the verge of retiring, in the next 15 years.
But even aside from the limitations offered by an ageing workforce, there are other issues to consider which may impact the number of the workforce.
The effects of Brexit, and limitations on free movement, will mean that migrant workers (who make up a considerable proportion of the construction workforce) will not be able to make up the numbers like they used to. The IPPR also noted that the number of EU-born construction workers halved between 2018-2021, from 115,000 to 53,000. The proposed points-based immigration laws have also meant that construction companies will require special licenses to hire migrant workers.
This can only mean one thing: that, unless things change, and the UK produces the next generation of skilled workers, we are potentially heading towards a construction skills crisis.
‘It is essential that the construction sector has a pipeline of skilled and motivated people coming through the system into the sector to make the green transition possible’ – Oscar Watkins.
This could have wider implications than we’d first imagine. Even aside from ensuring that major infrastructural projects are completed, and that the demand for construction work across the country is fully realised, the UK’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2050 is heavily dependent on the industry’s production rates – starting now. Unless this skills shortage is fulfilled, then, the UK’s ambition to achieve a zero-carbon economy by 2050 might be missed.
Luckily, great change is being called for, and this is even better news for those wanting to get into construction. Industry giants are calling for policies which make the construction industry more appealing. These policies would involve raising wages, improving working conditions, and increasing general job security.
And that is because the industry leaders recognise how important the individual worker is. How vital it is that these contributions are made, to ensure that the industry not only stays afloat, but fully thrives, develops, evolves. Mark Farmer, chief executive of Cast Consultancy and advisor to the government, was among many construction industry leaders to sign a letter calling for improvements and more attention drawn to the construction industry, to ensure that the projects of the future are completed. He said:
We need to start moving from rhetoric to action in the pursuit of net-zero. This has to be about building a legacy that can deliver not just a strong economic recovery, but also a fundamental shift in climate change trajectory and the societal benefits generated from green infrastructure.
Calls are also being made to increase funding into the construction industry, to improve education surrounding construction, and to change unfair perceptions of the industry which are potentially turning people away from making vital contributions towards it.
A potential skills crisis is, of course, concerning for the industry – but it also represents an enormous opportunity, and great news, for those thinking of retraining.
The construction industry is offering a stable solution to its workers. Follow their lead, and join the construction industry today.
Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.