It is well known that there is a shortage of people with job-ready skills in the UK. In the construction industry the skills shortage is particularly troublesome. To build the houses, schools, and infrastructure the nation needs, we will need to recruit a quarter of a million new people in the next five years.With such shortages, why are we seemingly excluding a large portion of the population? Despite some improvement in recent years, if you look around in most construction companies in the UK, you will see a population skewed towards the white and male. A recent Construction Industry Council report showed that 22% of under-25s in our industry are now female, but the overall figure is only 14%. This simply isn’t good enough.
On a very practical level, we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we do not broaden our appeal. I hasten to add that when you look at the latest forecast for jobs needed in construction over the next five years, the biggest demand is not for bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers (though all of them will certainly be needed). The biggest demand will be for technical, IT and other professional roles. So even if the idea of working on a building site does not appeal to you, there’s a place for you in construction.
In Wates Group we have recognised the problem and have been trying to inspire and entice those from all under-represented groups to consider careers in construction. Here is just a selection:
- Our ‘Build Yourself’ programme reaches out to girls and all young people from minority backgrounds. Build Yourself Insight Days expose 50–70 students at a time to challenges that those in the built environment professions deal with – for example, the planning and designing of a housing estate.
- The Build Yourself Career Ready programme is a more extensive exposure to the industry, lasting 16 months. Groups of 30 sixteen– to eighteen-year-olds participate in master classes, work placements, and mentoring designed to teach them teamwork and leadership, plus other skills that are specific to the construction industry. The programme targets young women and people from ethnic minorities.
- Our Women in Property and Construction events enable young women to network and talk with more experienced female professionals, demonstrating to young women that there are role models in the construction sector. We also take special care within the Wates business to arrange mentoring for women, to ensure that we retain the talent that we recruit.
I’m pleased that we are making progress. When you look at the broader challenge, it does take time to counter perceptions so ingrained in society that turn people away from construction. But we are not giving up, and we at Wates are optimistic that in the coming generation we will be seeing a real shift. Frankly, we can’t afford not to.
Every business– and indeed every individual – in the construction sector has a role to play in working with schools, colleges and universities to ensure we inspire and grow the next generation of talent, so that our future workforce is more representative of the communities in which we live and work.