Blog: The Skills Crisis: How Can We Overcome It?

27 November 2023

Ellie Carswell, the winner of the Constructing Excellence SECBE G4C Future Leader Award in 2022 shares insights on tackling the skills crisis and suggests some practical solutions.

Ellie Carswell MRICS, Project Manager at AtkinsRéalis

Ellie Carswell, the winner of the Constructing Excellence SECBE G4C Future Leader Award in 2022, joined the SECBE Board to contribute to the organisation’s vision of fostering a supportive environment for new talents in the sector. Not only is she an accomplished professional but also an advocate of the diverse range of opportunities within the construction industry on a mission to inspire the next generation of construction professionals.

With her dedication and expertise, Ellie is the perfect candidate to share insights on tackling the skills crisis and share thoughts on practical solutions.

Why are we experiencing a skills crisis?

Our industry has come so far in the past decade, yet why are we still experiencing a skills crisis? With the huge advancement in digital technologies, more sustainable building methods, and a greater awareness of mental health in the workplace, a career in construction could not be more exciting, you would think. So, let’s dig deeper (pardon the pun!) into the root causes of this significant issue.

The Construction Skills Network has estimated that an additional 225,000 workers may be required in our industry by 2027. This presents significant recruitment and training challenges for many businesses, especially given that the number of construction-related employees are estimated to be 2% lower than pre-pandemic times, despite 15.3% growth in new commissions. So, what’s slowing down this recruitment drive?

Will a pool table and beer fridge really attract more staff?

For an industry that has moved at such pace recently in relation to sustainability and embracing the efficiencies of the digital age, it can be argued that we have not evolved quickly enough when it comes to mindset. According to a Deloitte study, whilst financial security is deemed important, Generation Z value salary less than any other generation and, instead, favour companies that demonstrate a commitment to society, its communities, and its people. 

Key challenges and solutions include:

  • The adoption of hybrid working: In an industry that was once incredibly face-to-face, we must accept that Generation Z are digital natives and prefer to balance an ‘online’ and ‘offline’ working structure. There’s a lots that can be said for developing staff when working in an office environment, but great resilience and trust can be gained through flexible working.
  • ED&I is given best practice: This is an expected, business-as-usual, commitment and we must stop promoting this commitment to ED&I as an added benefit to employees. Going out of your way to celebrate events in the spirit of ED&I can present itself as unauthentic and a corporate ‘tick box’ exercise.
  • Time is precious: Generation Z have arguably been most impacted by the pandemic from a social and personal perspective. We can spend up to a third of our lives at work and Gen Z do not want this to be wasted. With 79% of Gen Z wanting their manager to care about their personal development, we need to shift our focus from mere productivity to how employees can continue to develop both personally and professionally. This may include learning a new skillset or feeding personal development items into regular appraisals.
  • The human factor: In a similar vein, we are all human and not robots. As humans, we thrive from mental stimulation and developing meaningful relationships with those we work with. Delivering work to a high quality for clients is and should be a priority, but the quality of our outputs is heavily dependent on the quality, i.e., ‘the health’, of the employee. You wouldn’t be able to drive with worn-out tyres, as much as you wouldn’t be able to use your phone without charging it, so why are we allowing staff in our industry to run on empty and expect the same outputs? We don’t seem to be learning from the grave statistics on mental health in our industry, with suicide rates continuing to rise year on year. Therefore, is it any surprise that the most health-conscious population to date aren’t choosing to work in construction?
  • Honesty is the best policy: It cannot be disregarded that a career in construction can be pressurised at times, particularly when meeting tight deadlines and budgets. However, there’s evidence to show that dropping the corporate jargon and communicating openly and transparently when it comes to career progression and individual performance is highly valued. A great example of where this is done effectively is CoTrain, SECBE’s structured apprenticeship programme, that works with the industry for the betterment of the industry through supporting the next generation in construction-related roles while also promoting social value targets.

What will our industry look like for tomorrow’s generation?

Our industry has the power to significantly improve the world that we live in, but this has to start with the wellness of our employees. Without them, the future of construction is at risk.

We drive so much enthusiasm and commitment into the wellness of a building itself, such as its energy performance, sustainability targets, and value for money. Why don’t we do this with the people that are delivering it too?

We have many extraordinary people already in the sector, people that have the potential to help transform the sector’s mindset and approaches. Many are already involved in SECBE’s Innovative Future Leaders Programme, forging connections with other progressive companies to help drive positive change through their own organisations and the wider sector.

As the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and it won’t be unless we learn to water our own patch of grass to encourage people to both join and stay for years to come.

This crisis cannot be ignored or underestimated. For a crisis that has been brewing for a number of years, not enough has been done to reverse it. So, my question to you, what can you do to shift existing mindsets in our industry to effect positive change?

Join our discussion on LinkedIn

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