Skills Shortage or Skills Crisis?

The question posed by the heading is one that is troubling organisations across the industry. The short answer is that it becomes a crisis only when we let it.

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.

We need to fully understand how innovation offers potential solutions on the one hand, and further challenges on the other.

We need to be thinking about embracing new disciplines such as data management and analysis, digital design, virtual and augmented reality, change and behavioural management, sustainable development and, potentially, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
We won’t win by doing what we’ve always done. New methods will have to be adopted that improve productivity and performance; which is even more reason to recruit from outside our traditional base.

Selling the benefits of a career in construction means wholehearted engagement. We also have to devise and support diverse routes into senior professional roles for young people put off by tuition fees, rather than rely on graduate recruitment.

And here’s a real challenge for you: if we could find ways to foster collaboration rather than competition for talent throughout the delivery chain, we would open opportunities for graduates and trainees to develop a wider set of skills and experiences. Not easy to deliver, but think of the possibilities.

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 more diversity into the industry, including opportunities for ex service people and ex offenders.  There is work going on to make sure all these efforts are accelerated.

The way projects and frameworks are tendered and awarded must reflect the imperative to use projects of all sizes to boost apprenticeships and encourage new people into the industry. There should also be greater emphasis and value placed on innovation and adopting new methods. The industry can’t afford to be obsessed with traditional ways of doing things that rely entirely on traditional skills.

Innovation will harness a broader range of skills and improve productivity – without it we certainly will have a crisis. There is much being done, and much more that needs to be done. But out of the challenge we have an opportunity to set the pace. We can become a global leader in using advanced technology and skills to deliver exceptional value, productivity and performance. This glass is definitely half full!”