A word on… the skills gap

Des Duddy
Des Duddy of Protrade

Des Duddy, Joint Managing Director at Protrade, analyses the data that indicate Gen Z’s opinion of the construction industry and looks at what needs to happen if construction is to avoid a widening skills gap crisis in the near future.

The Construction Industry Training Body (CITB) estimated that approximately 45,000 people would need to join the sector every year for the next five years to keep up with growing demand.

Approximately 24,530 young people were taken on as apprentices in the year 2022-23, which makes up just half the number of new workers needed each year to meet the growing demand and is down from the 26,060 new apprentices recorded the year before (2021-22).

It’s encouraging to see that the industry is appealing to a wider pool of young talent than ever before – 10% of the 2022-23 apprenticeship uptake comprised of females and 7.8% from ethnic minority backgrounds – but with uptakes in construction apprenticeships on a whole dropping by 5% and seeing very little growth over the last five years, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the industry that has got a big gap to fill.

So, why aren’t Gen Z pursuing careers in construction? Negative perceptions of the industry are undeniably the biggest factor turning Gen Z away from considering construction as a career option.

It’s no secret that many people today still hold views of the construction industry and on-site as being a ‘dirty’ environment, despite this being long outdated and today’s construction industry being far cleaner and safer than it was years ago. Our main focus needs to be spreading awareness of the reality of what the industry looks like today to Gen Z.

Removing old stereotypes

Within that, it needs to take greater strides to become diverse. The construction industry remains a way behind other industries in terms of diversity, but this will only remain the case until more young people from various backgrounds join the sector and begin to change the trope. We’ve seen the numbers of women and ethnic minorities joining the industry grow year on year, a positive sign for the industry’s future and, hopefully, we’ll only see these numbers grow as old stereotypes are removed and more equal opportunities are created.

Although numbers are growing, they’re still far below the benchmark. Leaders need to do far more to encourage women and ethnic minorities into construction. Only 14.7% of all those employed in the industry are women, nearly 33% lower than the UK average gender split in other industries and 5.4% are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background, 12.9% lower than the proportion of ethnic minorities making up the UK population.

Seventy-three percent of sixth-form students believe Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers will suffer prejudice in the construction industry, while Morgan Siddall’s report, ‘Are we Gen Z ready?’, revealed that a huge 57% of women and girls are still put off from considering a career in the construction sector because they believe it is male-dominated.

Social Media
Social Media presents a huge opportunity for targetting and engaging with Gen Z directly

The industry also needs to ask itself the question as to whether it is setting the bar too high for entry-level positions. One-fifth of all vacancies in construction are

hard to fill because candidates lack the right qualifications – perhaps the skills gap crisis is being worsened by companies not willing to provide opportunities to people who don’t fit certain academic criteria that don’t necessarily equate to skill.

Today there are far more career opportunities available via apprenticeship routes that are seen as more favourable to Gen Z, such as recruitment and accounting, that we are losing valuable talent to.

What’s the solution?

If we’re to see an increased uptake in construction careers we need to challenge negative perceptions of the industry that are instilled in young people’s minds and position construction as a more favourable career. As a non-negotiable, it’s the responsibility of leaders to make sure all opportunities within their organisation are equal and that zero-tolerance policies and clear progression ladders for all individuals are in place.

Education and awareness of today’s industry then need to happen at the grassroots level. Construction companies need to develop a closer connection with the education sector to deliver workshops to young people and build awareness in schools about what college courses and apprenticeships are available after formal education.

The construction industry needs to broaden this awareness further, too, with national campaigns in a similar way to the recruitment marketing campaigns the British Army and the Royal Navy produce each year if we want to have a chance at solving the very real skills gap crisis at hand.

Social media presents a huge opportunity for targeting and engaging with Gen Z directly. Creating content that drives natural curiosity and industry-specific hashtags will help to reinvent the industry in young people’s eyes.

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