The Future of Construction - Building Growth South West Blog Post

The Future of Construction

Over 2.6 million people are employed within the construction sector, and it contributes £124 billion gross value added to UK plc. Considering the massive influence that the built environment has on our everyday lives, it may surprise you that an ageing workforce threatens the ability of the industry to thrive in the coming decades with almost half of the workforce being aged between 45 – 65 years of age.  

Constructing the Future – providing an industry of opportunity for Generation Z is a report written by Constructing Excellence South West in 2021 highlights the need for the construction sector to “evolve as an industry with new skills, ideas and ways of working” and to make it “relevant, exciting and appealing.”

With this urgent labour shortage, the report examines the idea that the industry needs to attract more recruits to make up for the shortfall amongst school leavers and graduates of Generation Z. Many of these young people, born between 1997 and 2012, do not consider a career in construction with many attracted more to other sectors such as media, business and technical occupations. 

The report attributes this to the perception that the construction industry has unpleasant working conditions, a traditionally macho culture and poor pay particularly amongst women and those from minority ethnic groups. 

“We need to change perceptions of our industry. For too many people, the construction sector is still a macho world with long working hours, which brings to mind muddy boots and unpleasant working conditions. If we are to build a sustainable pipeline of young, diverse talent clamouring to join our industry, we are going to have to change that perception” Mark Castle, Chair of Build UK.

Labour shortages are particularly acute following the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, not just in the South West but across the whole country with high levels of vacancies in 2021 (the highest level in two decades) and a drop in job applications (based on figures from the Office of National Statistics).

However, there are key elements of the industry which could have appeal for this tech-savvy generation with their strong interest in the environment, doing their part and activism. They are the biggest generation with around 1.3 billion of them expected to join the global workforce over the next ten years. 

The report calls for positive action to be taken to engage with educational institutions, using creative recruitment marketing campaigns and clearer pathways to well-paid and successful careers. They draw parallels with the change in approach to recruitment taken by the Armed Forces in recent years which has transformed the image of service people. 

It calls for better showcasing of the industry’s use of sophisticated technology such as drones, mobile data platforms and digital twins which would hold greater appeal to this market. It states that only by presenting the industry as an exciting place to work at the forefront of new and emerging technologies, will members of Gen Z begin to consider it as a career option. 

Another trigger point for this target audience is the climate change movement. Construction and the built environment are responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, it is up to the industry to demonstrate the action being taken to achieve net zero targets. 

The third ingredient in the recipe to attract a wider pool of recruits is the diversity and good salaries that are available within the sector as well as the opportunities for career development. For example, the average construction industry salary is 15% higher than the average full-time UK salary! 

However, part of the work to transform recruitment within this sector includes making significant changes to the workplace culture, tackling some of the key barriers to inclusivity that have been identified for segments of society. 

The establishment of mutually beneficial partnerships between educational institutions and the construction industry could be key to the ability to recruit from the Gen Z population. This together with more creative campaigns and utilising digital platforms where they are already active will also bring positive results. 

Also key to progress to attract younger people to the sector is a change in the approach to learning – we need to embrace different ways of learning by increasing the amount of experiential working, encourage and support the skills transfer from those who may not be in traditional teaching roles and integrating environmental learning into skills based and theory learning. 

More streamlined pathways to guide young people to a career in the industry are required and one option to help them start are the Skills Bootcamps – Future in Construction which aim to upskill learners to quickly build their knowledge around areas such as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Completed in eight weeks, these free, flexible courses offer a supported route to boost career potential – find out more here To read the full report click here