Attracting and retaining talent in the construction sector
The skills gap is widely acknowledged across the construction and building materials industry – but how bad is the problem? How many new entrants are needed to deliver on the vital projects planned for the country?
In a recent report published in New Civil Engineer, 57% of construction businesses surveyed stated that they weren’t able to hire the skills that they need. With an ageing workforce, and young people being attracted to digital roles now more than ever, the skills gap is going to continue growing.
This is despite the significant opportunities that the construction industry presents. The industry accounts for more than £110 billion each year and contributes 7% of GDP. But despite the huge range of roles across the industry there have been fewer people choosing it as a career option over recent years. The positive news is that this has started to shift, but more still needs to be done to minimise the impact on those already working in the sector and the longer-term outcomes.
What is the current picture on the skills gap?
According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), more than 40,000 people need to join the industry each year in the next five years to meet demand. The need for green construction jobs is a key part of this, with increased consumer demand for energy efficient homes, and greater understanding of sustainable building practices and renewable technology.
For the first time since 2016/2017 the number of construction apprenticeships rose in the year to July 2022, with an increase of more than 6,000 versus the previous year. However, taking on apprentices does not always give businesses the instant impact they may need, with apprentices taking several years to get up to speed with certain jobs. Could this be the reason more apprentices are not being recruited?
The conversation of a ‘skills gap’ isn’t a new topic for the industry; the lack of new entrants has been a trend for many years, and at Artex we want to do our part to see the trend reverse and encouraging an increase in apprentices and other skilled workers joining the sector.
How can the industry work together to attract young people?
The sector must diversify in order to get ahead. By attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, construction opens itself to a wider talent pool and will also benefit from the breadth of perspective that diversity and inclusion brings.
At Artex, we are an inclusive employer and work hard to attract talent from a diverse range of backgrounds and with a wide skill set. We create gender-neutral job adverts and have developed training for colleagues around inclusivity. This activity is ongoing, and we believe this should be a focus across the entire construction industry, for all businesses, to attract and retain more people.
As well as the high demand for new entrants, the range of roles available is significant, from plasterers and dryliners to construction site managers and architects. Manufacturers as well as builders’ merchants also provide many opportunities to join the industry that may not at first be considered.
The increased digitalisation of construction is in our favour. According to the Digital Youth Index, young people are attracted to a career that involves technology and view digital skills as essential to their career development. So with more construction roles now using BIM technology, AI and automation, digital design and planning, promoting these roles to rebrand the image of the industry as purely physical could give us the progress we need against the skills gap.
Championing construction excellence
As well as attracting new talent, retention is an important ingredient in combating the skills gap. Primarily, the number of people completing apprenticeships is an issue, with figures from the Skills Commission reporting that only 30% of those who start an apprenticeship, complete it.
Skillbuild, run by CITB, is the largest multi-trade competition in the UK, that works to champion best practices and showcase the talent of construction apprentices and learners. British Gypsum, the partner brand of Artex, has been a key supporter and sponsor of Skillbuild, and the plastering and drylining apprentices for many years. As part of an ongoing commitment to the next generation, the British Gypsum Thistle Partnership scheme works with 57 further education colleges providing students with access to training and support. This, we hope, is going some way to improving those figures and creating a more sustainable pipeline of young talent for the industry.
The Thistle Partnership and Skillbuild are prominent examples of how we can engage and inspire young people in education settings, with the aim of also reducing the amount of people who do not complete their apprenticeship.
As part of the Saint-Gobain group, Artex are able to offer a hugely varied career with ample learning and development opportunities, to help attract and support young people into the industry. We offer our colleagues apprenticeships as a form of training to help retain and nurture talent, with colleagues able to enrol in a range of courses from sales and marketing to operations and leadership.
Cross-functional careers are also encouraged across the group, with colleagues able to apply internally for roles at brands across Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland and move into a new function to progress their career.
There is a lot of work ahead of us all to meet the rising demand for people and new skill sets, with high targets and our journey to achieve Net Zero propelling the need to act now. It is a positive step to see that additional people have joined construction as apprentices in the last year, however the focus should shift to be on retention as well as attraction to ensure the best talent are making an impact for decades to come.
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