Comment: Gen Z can rebuild construction skills

2 min read

Gen Z are the missing piece needed to fix the construction industry’s skills gap, says Guy Willis-Robb, director, Mechanical and Electrical, Harley Haddow

For anyone who works in construction, it’s no secret that the industry has been facing a growing labour shortage for the past decade. In the 2008 financial crash, the industry suffered hundreds of thousands of jobs losses and a gaping skills gap developed as the next generation of future leaders were not employed or coming through the ranks. Today, this proves to be an ongoing concern and has been further exacerbated by both the pandemic and Brexit, which has affected the number of workers available.

Debates within the construction industry have shifted focus to the lack of workforce supply. As the effects of furlough slowly ease, the gap between what we need and what we have is becoming more and more evident. With graduates one of the first to fall victim to job cuts, with many businesses letting them go, this chasm has grown bigger in recent months.

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Mark Famer’s Review of the UK Construction Labour Model predicted that 30 per cent of the construction workforce is over 50 and there is a lack of new entrants, with a quarter of the workforce expected to retire within the decade. Companies are now struggling to get graduates with over two years’ experience, creating knock-on employment issues. Recent data shows that 168,500 workers are needed by 2023 to stave off a construction industry catastrophe.

It’s clear there’s a problem and it’s even clearer that the solution to the problem is young people. But how can the industry attract young talent when most Gen Z-ers - born between 1997-2012 - don’t consider the industry relevant to them; with less than one third reporting the industry on their radar as a career path.

Gen Z has been labelled the sustainable, inclusive, and socially responsible generation

In a post pandemic ‘work from home’ world, there is work to do around improving the image of the industry. World Skills UK reported that 88 per cent of young people view digital skills as essential for their careers. To attract a generation of digital natives, the vast array of computer and office-based jobs that the construction industry offers need to be promoted and conveyed in the right way. Last year saw a record number of students arriving at university, which highlights that to appeal to this generation, advertising qualifications in the built environment and collaborating with educational bodies will play a pivotal role in industry efforts to recruit a young workforce.

As the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that there were 28,000 job vacancies in the last quarter of 2020, 25 per cent higher than the previous year, it is clear that the industry needs to consider not just how to attract young talent, but how to retain them too. Gen Z has been labelled the sustainable, inclusive, and socially responsible generation. To maintain this talent long term, we need to consider what this generation wants to get from their career. How will a job in the construction industry align with their core values and beliefs? The industry can capitalise on the push to meet Net Zero targets by creating or enhancing more green-skilled positions, such as sustainability officers and low-carbon heating engineers, to attract young workers.

Instead of a looming doomsday, the industry’s current skills gap can be viewed as an opportunity to build an even stronger foundation for the construction industry. This is something we are passionate about at Harley Haddow and last year alone, 14 graduates and school leavers have been recruited across our offices. Talent acquisition is a key part of our growth strategy as we work to recruit, train and retain Britain’s top engineering talent.

Guy Willis-Robb, Director, Mechanical and Electrical, Harley Haddow