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UK Construction: Where Has All the Talent Gone?

The side effects of a long recession aren’t always limited to the obvious. Certainly, with the end of a hung parliament and with the UK market on an upward spiral and more stable at this precise moment, the industry is well and truly getting back on its feet.

This is definitely true for the UK construction industry, but it isn’t without casualties. During the downturn when projects were put on hold and smaller businesses weren’t able to carry on, one of the side effects has been less new skilled professionals coming into the business. Or maybe it’s that they have sought careers beyond the UK? Businesses have also lacked the resources and the projects to nurture skills too.

The knock-on effects of this apparent shortage is that projects over run their predicted time-lines and often come in over budget. Ensuring that this doesn’t happen to you means good project management and planning. But it has become increasingly difficult to find the right professionals for the job if reports and a recent survey are to be believed. And we’ve no reason to doubt them.

The Survey Says...

The survey in question is the Global Construction Survey carried out every year by KPMG. More than 100 senior leaders from companies worth US$250 million and US$5 billion took part in the survey from around the globe giving this survey a fair overview of what is going on in the industry around the world.

Some of the statistics:

  • As many as 61% of projects underperformed; that’s an increase over the previous year despite better tools for planning and managing projects
  • Project failures in the public sector and the energy and natural resources areas reported higher figures of 90% and 71% respectively
  • Only a third of projects considered in this survey came in within 10% of the original budget
  • 70% admitted that project timelines and budgets had gone over because they hadn’t planned accurately for delays and cost increases
  • About 50% of the organisations had project management information systems in place
  • The survey also found a lack of development of the skills needed to use these systems
  • More than two thirds of projects around the world were affected by skill shortages and had to rely on additional hired assistance to complete projects
  • Almost half of those questioned admitted that they had experienced problems due to skill gaps

KPMG’s UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction, Richard Threlfall summed up by saying, “This survey highlights the prevailing issues affecting the sector both in the UK and globally. We will only see a turnaround of poor performing contracts once we start seeing contractors and project owners adopt technology such as building information modelling (BIM) to enable more efficient planning, mandated apprenticeships to ensure skilled labour are brought up through the ranks, and more accurate planning of projects.”

The Way Forward

One way to ensure that skill gaps neither increase nor hinder projects in the future is for companies to ensure that they develop their staff. This can be undertaken at all levels by introducing school leaver apprenticeships to widening graduate programmes and to encouraging on-going learning.

The UK construction industry as all other professions offers a series of CPD (Continued Professional Development) programmes to keep everyone up to date. These CPDs range from seminars to reading articles and answering questions and more. This is a good way for industry professionals to keep up to date with the latest techniques.

Here Come the Women

Another area that has been overlooked in the past but is thankfully being recognised more and more, is the potential to encourage and accept women in all areas of the UK construction industry.

However there is still some work to do. A recent survey of students aged 12 – 17 found that 40% felt that engineering was a ‘boys’ subject’. Despite this, many firms are encouraging women into construction and engineering. WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) offers companies ways of measuring gender imbalance. This campaign has encouraged construction companies to sign up to WISE and is being supported by several of the big companies and has also recruited four SMEs.

WISE offers a 10 point plan to address gender equality including

  • Challenging bias and sexism as a means of changing mindsets
  • Offering flexible working for everyone in the company
  • Ensuring that opportunities for progression within the organisation are transparent
  • Sponsoring female talent to the same degree that male talent is sponsored
  • Ensuring women employees are aware of commitment to retain and develop them
  • Offering leaders within organisations the opportunities to help with these gender changes

Companies are addressing the problems of sexism at work by allowing both men and women to challenge incidents where this occurs. Others address part of the issue by ensuring that their job adverts don’t discourage women from applying while others set targets to improve gender equality.

One of these that has taken this onboard is the Thames Tideway Project responsible for the tunnel by the same name. The project completes in 2023 by which time they intend to have a workforce equally split by gender. Their current percentage of women employees has reached 35% which considerably beats the industry average of 11%.

Speaking at the ‘Chicks with Bricks’ conference last week in London, their delivery manager Jackie Roe commented, “Sharing our experiences and celebrating the industry is one of the most important ways of spreading our message that construction isn’t just for men.”

We Have the Contacts You’re Looking For

Just as you need to hire and train skilled professionals within the industry, so a dedicated recruitment agency with specialist knowledge of the industry can be of great benefit to finding the personnel with the skill sets you need.

As a specialist industry recruitment agency we have contact with a pool of talented, skilled professionals in the construction industry. We know that there is talent out there so if you are looking for the best people for the job, please get in touch. You can call us on 0870 243 0446 or email us at information@maximrecruitment.com.



Steve Thomas

Maxim Recruitment

Construction job search