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Construction industry warnings on ‘workforce time bomb’

Employers urged to take action as workforce heads for retirement

The construction industry faces a ‘workforce time bomb’ and risks suffering a serious skills shortfall due to its ageing workforce according to ConstructionSkills, the industry’s Sector Skills Council. The warning to construction employers to recruit and train more diverse employees comes at the launch of ‘Positive Image’, a new recruitment campaign which aims to tackle the problem.

Despite 20% growth in the construction workforce since the early-1990s, the expansion has been uneven across different age groups, according to ConstructionSkills. The number of older workers (aged 60 and over) in the industry has doubled over this time period, while those aged 24 and under has fallen by 27% .

While the increasing age profile is most pronounced in the manual workforce, professional trades such as architecture, mechanical and civil engineering could also lose 20% of their manpower to retirement in the next ten years .

Latest analysis from ConstructionSkills shows that recruitment and, in particular, diversity in the industry is not increasing enough to meet the skills gap. While construction has seen an increase in the overall numbers of women and ethnic minorities entering the industry, the actual proportion of the diverse workforce has only kept pace with overall growth: fluctuating between 10-12% (females) and 2-4% (BMEs) since 1990. This is still significantly below the current all-industry figure of 46% and 8% respectively.

Mark Farrar, incoming Chief Executive for ConstructionSkills, says:

“We haven’t had a workforce this old since the Second World War when the construction workforce was hit by conscription and severe labour shortages. National data shows that the trend is increasing, with those in construction aged 40 years and over rising on average by about 2% per year since 1990, and this looks set to continue.

“It’s time for employers to act. Construction faces a serious skills shortfall and yet we are turning away new recruits that the industry works hard to attract. This year, ConstructionSkills has received five applicants for every available training place. If we cannot provide these young people with the on-site training required, they will be lost to other industries for good.

“As well as making more training places available, construction employers need to be more open-minded about who the perfect candidate might be. Last year we saw a 19% increase in female apprentice applications, but we were unable to translate this into the same increase in females placed. The industry needs to support potential new entrants and tap into the opportunity to recruit non-traditional applicants.”

Business Minister at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Baroness Shriti Vadera, said:

“A skilled workforce is crucial to the success of the construction industry. Employers must continue to have a diverse pool of talent on which they can draw, boosting UK competitiveness now and in the future.

“That is why the Government is working with ConstructionSkills and other industry bodies as part of our Sustainable Construction agenda, making sure the sector remains an attractive career option for young people from all backgrounds, with opportunities for training and development at every level.”

Further key facts and stats:

  • In 1990, over 55s represented 11% of the workforce compared with 17% in 2007.
  • In 1990, over a third (36%) of workers in the construction industry were aged under 30 in comparison with only a quarter of the sector’s workforce today.
  • In 1990, only 4% were aged 60 years or over, while by 2007 it had reach 8%.

ConstructionSkills’ call for more training places:

  • The ConstructionSkills Inspire scholarship scheme has received almost 1,000 applicants this year, yet only 68 employers have signed up to offer places (though some employers may offer more than one place).
  • In England, ConstructionSkills Apprenticeships has received over 12,000 applications so far this year and thousands more are expected, but to date only 2,400 vacancies have been offered by employers.

1 Source: Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey

2 Source: Construction Industry Council (CIC)

3 Source: Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey

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