How can the UK construction industry solve the skills shortage?

The UK’s construction workforce is ageing fast: nearly 20% of construction workers are expected to retire in the next 5-10 years, according to the CITB. This looming crisis is not just a problem for the industry, but for the government too. A report by Arcadis estimate [pdf] estimates that the industry needs to recruit and train 120,000 workers to build an additional 80,000 houses a year, taking the number of completions to 230,000 – still below the government’s goal of 300,000. Additionally, the industry as a whole needs to recruit 700,000 new workers over the next five years merely to replace those leaving the industry.

The scale of the problem suggests that the government alone won’t be able to solve the crisis. What can the construction industry do to ease the shortage?

Short term

In the short term, the industry will be reliant on expanding labour pools that contain already trained individuals. This means asking and expecting older workers to work for longer, and drawing on skilled migrant labour to fill key roles. Of course, the latter may be affected by whatever Brexit deal the UK negotiates, so there is uncertainty on this source of labour in the long term.

Additionally, businesses should consider increasing the number of apprentices they take on. Companies may wish to adopt voluntary apprenticeship targets by joining The 5% Club – and taking a pledge to work towards 5% of their workforce consisting of apprentices within the next five years. Although this might seem a costly endeavour, promoting this pledge will work wonders for company reputation – and may even win over clients.

Long term

Long term solutions centre on solving construction’s image problem. Two-thirds of Brits would never consider working in the construction industry. 60% of women would still describe the construction industry as macho.Only 3% of 18-24 year olds have actively searched for a job in construction.

However, recent shifts in the industry mean that the nature of construction jobs doesn’t always match the stereotypes. Companies looking to attract young talent could focus on how technology is used to create a safe working environment, and how it might be used in the future to reduce the amount of manual work that is carried out on site. Companies should stress the opportunities that construction work provides: travel, variety, room for specialisation, advancement and so on.


Individual construction companies are likely to argue that it’s not their responsibility to solve the skills shortage – and they’re right, it’s not. However, companies can use their diversity and apprentice numbers to cement a reputation as a forward-thinking business. Additionally, initiatives that encourage female employees into construction such as flexible working will benefit all areas of the business.

The government also holds a critical role in tackling the skills shortage, as it’s clear that long term solutions revolve around triggering cultural change.

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