This year’s Building/Hays Montrose careers survey found that construction’s workforce is overwhelmingly concerned with the problem of recruitment and training staff. We analyse the statistics

What aspects of the construction industry keep you awake at night? According to the 2004 Building/Hays Montrose careers survey, the chances are it’s the problems of prosperity – shortages of skills and training (67%) and your work–life imbalance (64%).

Bill Chitty, of Hays’ London office says that the concern with training is well justified. “There is a significant shortage of blue and white-collar workers, which will at some stage have a major impact,” he says. “Getting young people into the industry is a massive issue. In London, the only people you get walking into our branch office younger than 30 are Aussies and South Africans.”

Image problems

Many readers thought the industry had only itself to blame for its inability to attract new recruits. Fifty-three per cent of respondents said a better public image would help improve entry rates. Perhaps surprisingly, only 4% thought that better health and safety standards or more academically challenging entry course would be most effective in improving entry rates.

CITB ConstructionSkills, the industry body charged with attracting new blood into the sector, is upbeat about the results. A spokesperson says: “It’s encouraging to see the issue of skills and training so high on people’s agendas. For too long, much of the industry neglected the importance of a qualified workforce. CSCS helped to address this change in attitudes.”

Chitty agrees: “CSCS will help massively. Under the system people are tracked throughout their career to monitor their development. It is a positive thing if it’s done right.” However, respondents to the survey were more sceptical about the success of CSCS cards. When asked whether the card would improve training levels, 44% of respondents took a seat on the fence.

Looking after your own

It is not just training new recruits that is important – keeping those already working in the industry trained is also a concern. More than half (54%) of respondents felt they needed more training and said it was their employer’s responsibility to provide it. Chitty says there are reasons to be optimistic that the industry is starting take training seriously. “Contractors are zeroing in on spending time and money on training and professional development,” he says. There are two reasons for this: the need to retain staff and the fact that clients, such as supermarkets and the government, are demanding it. Chitty says: “The culture with some contractors is now all about being the best at training.”

Almost one-third of respondents (32%) said providing funding for training was the most important thing that the government could do. CITB ConstructionSkills agrees: “We have approached the government to seek funds to meet the industry’s objectives; it is reassuring that almost one-third of respondents are supportive of this move.”

Theme with variations

After training, the other key areas of concern are work–life balance and health and safety. Last year’s survey revealed that 30% of respondents worked 10 or more hours a day. No surprise, then, that the issue continues to be a bugbear for 64% of respondents.

There are glimmers of hope, however, that the industry is slowly starting to change with regard to flexible working. Dave Townsend, of Hays’ Bristol office, provides an example. He says he has recruited an estimator for a civil engineering contractor in Swindon who works on site four days a week, then returns home to Wales on Thursday evening to avoid Friday’s traffic congestion. He then works from home on Friday. “The management’s attitude accommodates his needs,” Townsend says.

Health and safety still features as one of the most worrying issues in the industry with 62% of respondents highlighting it as a concern – a similar figure to last year. Figures from the HSE show that last year there were 70 deaths in construction – well short of the targets set at the 2001 safety summit.

Time for a change

The need to gain experience in order to become a member of an industry body is the main reason that people are changing jobs. The survey revealed that 76% of respondents would look for a new job if it offered them a fresh challenge to broaden their work experience. Two years ago it was different – people were changing jobs for money. However, chasing the pound rather than the experience has backfired on some people. Chitty says: “Ten to 15% of the CVs I see are a mishmash because people chased money rather than career development.”

If Building’s survey is to be believed, the attitude of management would also convince 84% of respondents to change employers. Chitty believes this figure was so high because respondents were airing their dissatisfaction with a company in general, and because there is an abundance of work at the moment, people are sensing their worth and flexing their muscles. “There has been a culture of people battening down the hatches and getting on with their work, but now there is more of a feel-good factor and people are looking for interesting work,” he says.

And once they’ve made the move, the survey showed the most important incentives in a new salary package to be salary (73%), pension scheme (70%), and a company car or car allowance (59%). Less popular were perks such as share options (14%) or gym membership (4%).

It is notable that 88% of respondents to the survey were male. This statistic graphically underlines the most obvious solution to the industry’s chronic skills and personnel shortages is to attract more women to into construction. Thirty-five per cent of the survey’s respondents think that more flexible hours would help attract more women to the industry and 30% think better site conditions would do the job. Curiously, only 4% thought an improved health and safety performance would be attractive to women.

Not everyone thought women were the answer to the problem. One respondent commented: “I do not think the lack of women is a concern – nobody makes a fuss about the lack of male beauty therapists.”


The results were compiled from 92 completed questionnaires. Eighty-three per cent of respondents were male. The largest group were between 45 and 55 years old (30%). The most heavily represented sector was main contracting (33%).

  • Many thanks to all those who filled in the survey. The winner of the prize draw is Stuart Davidson of Cyril Sweett, who receives a case of wine.