The Skills Shortage in The Construction Industry 2023

9th March 2023

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The construction industry is experiencing a serious skills shortage.

Key trades like electricians, plumbers, roofers, bricklayers etc are down in numbers across the UK by upto 40%.

This coupled with rising materials costs, lack of skills available and rising interest rates is proving to create a perfect storm in the construction industry across Great Britain. The shortage of skills is also pushing up the price of wages as in demand workers can push for higher day rates. 

There are several reasons for the skills shortage. A couple of areas to address are;

  1. The rising age of the skilled workforce.
  2. The lack of interest from younger people looking to get into the workforce.

Over 20% of people in the workforce are over 50 years old and over 15% are over 60 years old. While experienced workers come with hard learned skills over the years, the workforce is not being replaced at the start of the funnel as skilled workers retire.

On top of these reasons there is also a general labour shortage. Most of us will have heard about sector-specific shortages, for instance, of HGV drivers and healthcare staff. The Institute for Employment Studies estimates there are 600,000 fewer people in work than before the pandemic, likely due to fewer migrants in the labour market, older people retiring, and more younger people in further education. In addition to this growing labour shortage,  there are also growing gaps between new jobs being advertised, and the skills within the current workforce to do them.

Although the Government is pushing lots of different schemes (including apprenticeships) in these critical areas, figures according to YouGov Omnibus research, show that only 3% of young people aged between 18-24 have searched for a job in the construction industry.

Generally speaking, the younger generation have been born into an ever increasing digital world, where construction is shamefully one of the UK’s least digitised industries.

Construction on the whole, is not seen by teachers and parents alike as a “good” choice for younger people to go into and they are usually encouraged to pursue a more academic or creative career rather than one that builds on practical skills. Digitization and technology are areas where young people are drawn and encouraged to explore further.

But construction needs to attract some of these talented youngsters — to build sustainable accommodation, to create space for a growing population and to discover better ways of doing things. 

In construction, manufacturing and engineering, 1 in 3 vacancies are now hard to fill due to a shortage of skilled employees with the right qualifications or experience.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are 244,000 fewer workers in the construction industry than three years ago. And the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) reports a similar issue. 

At least one third of FMB members struggled to recruit carpenters, bricklayers, and general labourers between July and September 2022. And this shortage could affect small businesses disproportionately, as FMB suggests it takes three years to train a skilled tradesperson.

On top of staff shortages there is also a very high proportion of tool theft and this is becoming more common. Contractors purchasing their own tools and van need to be vigilant and consider insurance for the tools that they depend on for their livelihood.

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