Construction is one of the main pillars propping up the UK economy. And it’s a far-reaching industry, going way beyond hard hats and scaffolding to take in civil engineering, architecture, and even Kirstie and Phil.
Generally, it’s high-cost/high-risk stuff, so it’s a decent litmus test of how the economy is doing. Right now, investment is on the up. But there’s just one thing we didn’t get planning permission for: a skills shortage.
The population is getting older. In the next five to ten years, 19% of the construction workforce will retire. What’s more, 22% of the workforce are over 50. An amazing 15% are over 60. Other sectors with more stable work and better pay are winning out.
Around 20% of all construction vacancies are hard to fill because young people simply aren’t attracted to the sector. Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) data tells us that teenagers score construction just 4.2 out of 10. For them, it’s a blue-collar option – a world of wall-ties and wolf-whistles.
These perceptions are reinforced by parents, who funnel their bright kids towards medicine, law or finance. Those offspring could be forging fine careers in engineering, quantity surveying or town planning – occupations much respected in progressive economies such as Germany and China.
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has published a couple of reports on the subject. The latest, Exploring the impact of the ageing population on the workforce and built environment, surveyed nearly 1,000 members.
The report found that, despite new laws aimed at improving recognition of the ageing population and combating workplace discrimination, awareness of the older population and its influence on the built environment has slumped since the CIOB’s first report in 2009.
The research argues that retaining ageing workers’ knowledge and skills is crucial, and it sends a clear message to the Government – to be successful, construction needs much more investment and recognition of older workers.
Employers, it says, should overcome stereotypes and repurpose job descriptions to attract and retain older workers. The CIOB adds, though, that this shouldn’t replace investment in training, and should work alongside measures to relieve the skills crisis.
A healthy 57% of respondents agreed that this was ‘very important’ to keeping ageing workers, but very few suggested that their workplace had much in the way of flexible working, mid-life career reviews or succession planning. You know – those things designed to extend working lives.
"...very few suggested that their workplace had much in the way of flexible working, mid-life career reviews or succession planning. You know - those things designed to extend working lives."
In the CIOB survey, the vast majority agreed that mentoring could be a great way of bridging the skills gap. However, only 63% said they believed this was a fixture in the workplace. The report argues that much more must be done to use older workers’ experience and expertise to upskill younger colleagues.
Bridget Bartlett, Deputy Chief Executive of the CIOB, said: “The impact of the ageing population and the role of the ageing workforce have slipped down the agenda.
“However, if construction is to meet the skills crisis it faces and fill the 224,000 vacancies needed by 2019, employers should look to take additional steps to overcome the skills shortages they incur by reaching out to older workers.
“There is a huge opportunity to showcase to both young and old members of the workforce that construction isn’t all hard hats and hi-vis and that off-site opportunities are aplenty. We demand technical skills as much as manual skills.”
It’s worth considering that the less physical, more technological nature of construction these days makes it far more suited to the older worker than in days gone by. After all, BIM is 10% tech and 90% people and processes. It’s a sociological thing. No builders’ bums there.
On top of that, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Lean Project Delivery (LPD) are also processes heavily dependent on technology for collaboration, project management and execution.
With the skills gap an ever-widening ravine, now is the time for employers to recognise and reward older workers’ skills and ensure they’re passed on to the next generation.