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Tackling the skills gaps through marketing

Following the election results, the FTSE 350 construction and material index rose 2.2 per cent as shares in housebuilders made big jumps. 

It is apparent that the sector is optimistic about its future, despite signs of uncertainty in Europe and slowdown in world economy.

And why not? The UK construction industry, which accounts for about 7 per cent of GDP and is worth £100bn-plus a year, expects major infrastructural projects and significant housebuilding activity in the coming years.

This is potentially good news for employment in our sector.

“The problem of insufficient skills looks more alarming as the industry adopts more and more new technologies”

Just a few years back during the downturn, the industry had one of the highest redundancy rates of any sector.

The critical question is whether the industry is ready to experience an upturn. The problem is the looming skill shortages.

Recruitment must match challenges

In 2013/14, the number of people who completed a construction apprenticeship was 8,030 – nearly half the numbers of apprenticeships in 2008/09, at a time when the industry needs 45,000 new entrants every year just to stand still.

The problem of insufficient skills looks more alarming as the industry adopts more and more new technologies, such as building information modelling, and commits itself to the greener and sustainable construction programmes.

The structure and culture of the industry is also to blame for this shortage.

Uncertainty over workloads has seen the training of local people ignored in favour of reliance on migrant labour.

The government has recently put huge emphasis on apprentices, but most of the expansion has happened in areas such as retail and care work.

Construction is lagging behind in attracting young talent, with only around 10 per cent of those working in the industry aged between 19 and 24.

“Why is it that only the hi-viz jackets or hard hats represent the image of the sector”

There are many reasons for this crisis. Ucatt argues that the fragmentation of the construction industry is failing apprenticeships. 

The reduction of directly employed workers, more subcontracting and greater use of agencies has left no room for apprentices to train.

Image problem

We can’t be left behind; we need to go back to the drawing board and think again. 

One of the biggest barriers for the industry is its image.

The common perceptions of the industry conjure words such as ‘cowboy’, ‘hard hats’ and ‘men at work’, while I doubt how much the industry has piggybacked its recent successes like the Olympic sites and the Shard.

Although the Considerate Constructors Scheme has done good work in improving the image of the sector, more work is required to help improve the construction brand.

Why is it that only the hi-viz jackets or hard hats represent the image of the sector, when there are so many varied roles that use the latest technologies and gadgets?

A pigeon-holed industry will not attract the best talent.

“We need greater commitment and buy-in from industry leaders in securing the step change needed”

We have to excite young people with varied opportunities in construction, from traditional crafts to management, from project management to computer-based modelling.

Unless the diversity of the roles is highlighted, the industry won’t be able to raise aspirations and attract talent.

Marketing can play a major role in revamping construction’s image.

But we need greater commitment and buy-in from industry leaders in securing the step change needed to help young people secure worthwhile employment in construction.

Improving the brand image of the sector is critical to lay the foundations for a sustainable and modern industry and attract talent, especially young women.

Until then, like many other young people, my young daughter will continue to say no to a career in construction.  

Debansu Das is marketing director at SESCO

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