How To Solve the Construction Skills Crisis: Promoting Inclusivity in Training

How To Solve the Construction Skills Crisis: Promoting Inclusivity in Training


A shortage in skilled tradespeople has been an obstacle which has loomed over the construction sector for the past decade and more. In recent years, industry leaders have been asking themselves one important question: how do we encourage more people to join our thriving and essential industry? 

It is well-known that the construction workforce is ageing, and the number of younger skilled workers taking its place is not quite enough to satisfy the significant demands of an industry which is as crucial as it has ever been. 

Numerous governmental proposals have been made, extra funding for apprenticeships promised, and policies suggested to encourage more people into the industry. But the persistent obstacles have been made more significant by recent political and social turmoil: though the construction industry valiantly carried on through the trials of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, these events undoubtedly stunted its progress and made things a whole lot more challenging than they would otherwise have been. 

Not only that, but the added urgency of environmental concerns, and more drastic government targets to achieve net-zero by 2050, have piled the pressure onto an industry which is already up against it. Of course, environmental responsibility is a worthy and necessary burden to bear, and perhaps one of the great challenges of our time – but it does nothing to lighten the load of those working within the construction industry.

As a result, industry leaders have been increasingly turning to one another for fresh, new solutions to a skills problem which is not going away by itself.


What is the solution?

Well, perhaps the solution is not all that complicated. Perhaps it simply requires a change in approach and attitude which is not all that revolutionary after all. 

This, at least, is the view of Mark Krull of LCL Awards, who refers to the latest Construction Skills Network (CSN) report as a reflection of the “significant recruitment and training challenges faced by the construction sector”. He proposes that in order to open the construction sector up to receive its best candidates, it must first make sure that it appeals to everybody in our society, regardless of their background: 

To move our industry forward we need input from people with a range of experiences and backgrounds; from school leavers to adult career changes. To do this, our sector must become more representative of society as a whole.

This ultimately means that we as an industry must fast-forward the already developing changes in the image of the construction industry, by making sure that the opportunities available within the sector are open to everybody. 

It also means dispelling the idea that a career in construction is suitable for men only. As Mark points out, for example, while the female population of the UK is at 50.59%, less than 1% of the construction workforce is female. 

Much work has already been done to debunk the stereotypes which are rampant in perceptions of the construction industry. For instance, the establishment of the all-female plumbing business, Stopcocks Women Plumbers, founded by Hattie Hasan MBE, is an excellent example of the way in which women are becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate and valued feature of the construction industry. 

The Inclusivity Charter, which Hattie Hasan MBE helped develop alongside LCL, is one way of making this attitudinal change a permanent fixture of the everyday culture in our training centres. Its application to our training practices will mean that the experiences of all new students, whatever their background, will not suffer as a result of being treated differently in the workplace.

It is simply not the case that the construction industry is unsuitable for women, and yet it remains the case that female representation within it is minimal. And this lack of representation of society applies not only to gender, but to all aspects of race, religion, and sexuality. 

Everybody who so desires should be able to participate in and contribute to a thriving and essential industry which will become crucial to the development of the country over the next five years and beyond. 


Where do we begin?

Well, we would do well to begin at the beginning, which, for most people, is the training centre. As Mark adds: 

More society-representative classrooms and ultimately, workplaces, should have a knock-on effect with the young people leaving school and college, bumping up the apprenticeship numbers, as well as the other new entrants’ routes that are now available. This group has grown up in a more tolerant world and therefore our training centres need to reflect modern attitudes. 

As Mark notes, it is rightfully important that values of inclusivity and of equal opportunity should be reflected in every aspect of every workplace, not only within the construction industry. Actively promoting inclusivity in the workplace is something that will provide the chance for the construction industry to regenerate its appeal for oncoming generations. 


Flexible courses for everybody

We need to encourage people from all walks of life to join the ranks of the construction workforce, and this means making sure that these courses are accessible. That doesn’t necessarily mean simply creating more and more apprenticeship spaces, and throwing money at colleges, because this is demonstrably ineffective. Apprenticeship numbers have been decreasing consistently every year since 2017. 

There must therefore be a deeper-rooted reason for this lack of uptake; a problem relating to the construction industry’s image, and its lack of appeal for young people. Of course, there are other reasons for this decrease in the number of young people who are becoming qualified tradespeople, such as the increase in the number of young people who attend university. But it is undeniable that, unless the construction industry finds a way of encouraging everybody – from school leavers, to adult career changes – to contribute to the workforce, then the future of the industry is at risk.

If we want the construction sector to become more representative of society as a whole, then we must also make our courses as flexible as possible for those who have different needs, who are dictated by different lifestyles, and require different working conditions. 

For example, Mark of LCL notes that some mothers have had to give up their training because the logistical and financial challenges of looking after their children whilst undertaking their qualifications is too much. This shouldn’t have to mean that they cannot train at all – rather, we must find ways to accommodate everybody who finds that the unavoidable demands of their lifestyles restricts their ability to lead fulfilling professional careers in the construction industry.


Getting training right

What is clear is that the change required needs to come from the bottom: the training centres and academies who are preparing the next generation of workers for their careers, the ones who are providing the qualifications and educating tradespeople to the highest standards. 

These are places of excellence, but they must also be places of inclusivity. Places where all people, from all walks of life, are to be considered fully able and competent candidates to achieve their professional qualifications. 

This means getting training right. It means actively reaching out to people from groups who might not normally consider the construction industry as a welcome environment for them to work in. It means challenging stereotypes and making sure that we can use our training centres to inspire and motivate. 

The traditional idea of what a tradesperson doesn’t need to be thrown out of the window; rather it should be adapted to make room for those who might not fit neatly into that traditional idea. It should be adjusted to account for everybody, and used to inspire rather than alienate. We can no longer afford to hold onto these outdated images, because, quite frankly, they are adding unnecessary baggage to a hot air balloon which is absolutely ready to take off.

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