Economic recovery can only be postive for construction, but it does mean we have to persuade graduates to choose our sector over all the others

Pete Baxter

The construction and engineering industries still remain plagued by a shortage of skilled workers. Recent research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) highlighted that six out of 10 engineering employers fear that this shortage will actually impede business growth within the UK. Combine this with the latest figures from the RICS showing that the national shortfall of quantity surveyors is currently on the rise and it makes for quite concerning picture.

With this in mind, the industry needs to find a solution to meet the current supply and demand problem across the UK and create a more sustained level of growth, as opposed to the boom and bust cycle that we are traditionally caught in. At the very least, the sector should be able to respond to growth opportunities.

So what can be done? The answer is not a simple one, though it is something that other countries have tried to solve. For example, in Germany an immigration waiver has been introduced for migrants with the required skills.

But what does this mean for the UK? One issue that stands out is the need for the industry to make itself known to the workforce of the future. This summer students received exam results and made decisions about their future; a ripe opportunity for those companies in need of fresh talent.

Industry leaders could and should do more to open the eyes of the younger generation to the various opportunities that careers in construction and engineering can offer

A lot of organisations are now taking on apprentices and this is a viable option for solving any skills gaps within a particular field. This approach is attractive to both the employer and the apprentice. For the apprentice there is the appeal of on-the-job training, earning while you learn, and not incurring hefty tuition fee debts. Firms get to hire the right people at the right time and shape them into successful and dedicated workers.

Industry leaders could and should do more to open the eyes of the younger generation to the various opportunities that careers in construction and engineering can offer. A prime example of the type of events the sector should be throwing their weight behind is the current Hotel Underground competition for secondary schools. This is a scheme perfectly structured to replicate all aspects of the construction industry, with team members taking on a range of responsibilities, from creating a 3D model of the hotel to the interior design and overall project management. It is experiences like this that have the potential to inspire the future generation to seek out a career in the sector.

In a sense this could be viewed as a positive problem. After years of recession, the industry is growing, with new opportunities and jobs being created. As the competition heats up to get hold of the best skilled workers, the sector will need to work hard to ensure it doesn’t get left behind. The industry naturally wants to attract the very best talent with the greatest potential. Therefore it makes sense that these organisations need to play their part in marketing themselves to be the very best in terms of career possibilities, training opportunities, and technological advances.

The sector is changing and unemployment is going down - people have got to work somewhere and the construction and engineering industry needs to get better to make sure it gets a piece of the pie, particularly in attracting the students at the top of their game.

Pete Baxter is vice president for engineering, natural resources and infrastructure sales for Autodesk in EMEA