Planning ahead for the Skills Shortage

“Our industry is cyclical. It falls, it recovers, but as it recuperates slightly quicker, each time, we still find ourselves struggling with the ever present skills shortage across the industry.
A blend of skills
It’s not just the bright young things we need to attract, attain and retain, its recognising that experienced workers are also much needed. A serious shortage of qualified professionals with at least three years’ experience has been the veiled problem for a long time now. Certainly, there are shortages of skilled people at all levels. For example, over 20% of civil engineers are set to retire in the next 15 years. The people entering the profession are not sufficient to fill that gap. A study led by Terry Morgan, Chairman of Crossrail identified that over 14,400 people were needed to fill engineering and technical roles in the road and rail sectors; 7,950 were needed for construction management; and 2,700 more people had to be found for customer and project leadership roles.

Back to the future
If we cast our minds back to 2007 – we heard about the credit crunch. This hit many projects in our industry and we saw these delayed or cancelled completely. The mark this left on the industry was that many graduate trainee programmes, particularly in the white collar fraternity such as quantity surveyors or planners were halted, meaning, at this time, fewer graduates started their careers in our industry. This is reminiscent of the recovery following the early nineties recession, and in all that time, the gap seems to have widened when it comes to the skills shortage.

Lost to other industries
As a result of this despair, many qualified and junior professionals who fought to find work in the outcome of the financial crisis, simply moved different sectors and in many cases, found work overseas. It could be argued that this has led to a stark lack of professionals with experience, and an almost entire generation of potential professionals, simply vanishing from our industry’s clasp.
Recent reports have told us that an ‘estimated £600bn of work is queueing up in the National Infrastructure and Construction pipeline, a well-documented existing skills shortage, plus the prospect of losing up to 8% of the workforce post-Brexit are just some of the key reasons behind the announcement of £64M for construction and digital training courses in the UK Government Autumn Budget. Welcome as that money might be, however, it is cultural change within the construction industry that holds the key to sustainable growth and workforce development through long-term talent recruitment and retention.’

What next?
For existing skill sets, increasing efforts are being made to encourage people to return to the industry. Apprenticeship places and skills academies are growing (though not fast enough). And innovative programmes to welcome and embrace and more diverse workforce into the industry are being developed. However, all of these efforts need to be accelerated.”

Mike Todd is the Lead Business Development Manager for Infrastructure at Osborne.

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