You only need to look at the government’s recently published National Infrastructure Plan to recognise the phenomenal opportunities that sit tantalisingly on the horizon for the UK construction sector.
Whether it is High Speed 2, the upgrade of the A14 or new nuclear power stations at Wylfa and Hinkley Point, the renewal of the country’s infrastructure represents an opportunity for the sector to flourish.
And it is not solely in transport and energy where demand is increasing, as a recovering economy revives housing and commercial building.
Small wonder then that the Construction Products Association recently revised up its forecasts for the prospects of the sector over the next five years.
Opportunities require skills
Yet if this growth in activity is to be supported, we must have a workforce that can accommodate the demand, with the right skills to respond to a changing market.
But this demand follows one of the toughest downturns the industry has ever faced. From a peak in 2008, the number of jobs in construction fell by nearly 370,000 in five years, figures that are only now starting to recover.
“It was suggested Bob the Builder would plant a seed of interest in a future career in construction. It’s time to see whether this theory carries any weight”
That represents a fairly sizeable hole in the industry that needs to be filled. Will those who have moved into other sectors, or to other parts of the world, be attracted back now that workloads are rebounding? Perhaps.
But we also need to look to those who have no previous experience of our sector. We should take this opportunity to link our industry’s future growth with improving the prospects of a new generation of workers.
This year’s school-leavers may have been the first to watch Bob the Builder when it arrived on our screens at the start of the last boom for the industry in the late 90s.
At the time it was suggested this would plant a seed of interest in a future career in construction, to germinate many years later. It’s time to see whether this theory carries any weight.
To do this we must get better as an industry at attracting these potential new recruits. It was for this reason that last summer Construction 2025, the new industrial strategy for construction, called for a new cross-industry approach to engaging with new entrants.
The work to create this new approach is under way, under the direction of the Construction Leadership Council.
To ensure the industry pursues the best possible approaches to engagement, an industry-wide survey is being carried out, looking for companies from across the sector to flag up the best practice that exists in their own business.
We are keen that we hear from as many companies as possible, whether large or small, to tell us what they do best to bring in the next generation of employees.
We hope this year to bring this research together, using it as the basis of a whole industry approach that will ensure we have the people we need to deliver the future of our industry. Can we recruit them? Yes we can.
Alasdair Reisner is director of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association