It probably has not felt like it lately, but we’re still in the grips of a building boom.
Urban skylines spiked with cranes show a building programme continuing apace, despite an uncomfortable end to 2007. And while other sectors cut back, demand for construction workers remains high.
A recent study, carried out by KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, shows the sector is bucking the prevailing trend of consolidation with demand for skilled workers remaining high.
As Alan Nolan, director at KPMG, explains, there is still plenty of confidence about.
“While the rate of expansion continues to slow, January’s data shows growth in both permanent and temporary placements,” he says. “Despite predictions of redundancies, employers still remain optimistic.
“Different sectors are affected in different ways. While workers in the construction industry remain in demand, investment banks are seeing a reduction in graduate salaries.”
To add to the recruitment conundrum, the influx of Polish workers is slowing as Poland enjoys its own construction boom ahead of the 2012 European Football Championships and a massive renovation programme.
Poles are staying at home
The homegrown upturn has resulted in the number of Poles signing up to the UK Government’s register of migrant workers falling by 18 per cent in the third quarter of 2007 compared to the previous year, adding to concerns of a skills shortage.
Sir Michael Latham, chairman of ConstructionSkills, recently told an audience at Closing the Skills Gap, a conference organised by Construction News, that the industry’s employment quandary was widespread.
He said: “2007 alone has seen the start of some 13,000 projects and to help support this growth we need 87,600 new recruits to our industry each year. We need more men and women considering construction as a career.
“This skills shortage is not just in a few select skills or regions. Although some of the biggest annual requirements are in wood trades and electricals, there are also major gaps at the non-trade end, for everyone from construction managers to professional and technical staff.”
Commenting on Sir Michael’s speech, a ConstructionSkills spokesman said: “In the next five years, the highest increases in employment will be seen in trade skills such as bricklayers and building envelope specialists.
“However, we also expect to see a significant requirement for professionals and managers.
“Over 32 per cent of the recruits forecast for the next five years are needed to fill roles as construction managers, architects and technical staff, or as senior executives, business process managers or office-based and technical/IT recruits.
“It is clear that employers require lots of professional recruits, which is why we have initiatives such as Inspire Scholarships to boost the number of graduates entering industry.”
A new dynamic
ConstructionSkills is not the only organisation advocating an all-encompassing approach to recruitment. The Sustainable Employment Legacy Forum, which was set up by REC, aims to ensure the London Olympics deliver an employment legacy to the city’s poorest boroughs.
As well as promoting the transfer of relevant skills, SELF facilitates the early introduction of candidates into the industry, the appropriate management of migrant labour and encourages workplace diversity.
It does this through a number of initiatives such as site visits for school children, supporting apprenticeships and assisting the provision of training courses to transfer skills.
The idea of casting the recruitment net wider is gaining support, but that should come as little surprise since three quarters of construction firms reported having problems finding staff last year.
Katrina Dowding, chair of the National Association of Women in Construction, says looking outside traditional recruitment pools could do more than just fill gaps.
“You’d obviously have a bigger pool of labour resources,” she says, “but you would also introduce people with a broader range of skills, different approaches to work and fewer preconceptions about the industry.
“You can bring a new dynamic to a team and new ideas into the industry. It’s not just a way of plugging in numbers.”
But the challenge of changing attitudes may not stem from within the industry itself.
A survey conducted by project management consultancy ChandlerKBS found most job hunters had little experience of construction, with many seeing it as a career dominated by hard hats and building sites.
The research showed that 60 per cent believed the job was restricted to working on site.
There is a lot more to construction than mucky boots, but to change misconceptions a change is needed in the way potential staff view the industry and the way the industry views potential staff.To read the full version of Sir Michael Latham’s speech on the skills gap click on the resource box on the right hand side of the page