There is no impending skills shortage; the construction industry is facing the issue right now – and has been for some time. Specialist contractors can’t wait on government led initiatives, we need to stand up and take action in order to future-proof ourselves against it

Gavin Hamblett BW 2018

The lack of suitably skilled personnel entering the construction industry has the capacity to derail any specialist contractors’ growth in the current market. The industry spends a lot of time talking about the practical skills shortage and the need for a trained workforce onsite, however the issue is all encompassing – affecting every facet of what we do, both on and offsite.

There is an expert skillset within the industry that is being eroded by retirement and in order to counteract it, specialist contractors need to proactively invest both time and money to feed their businesses from the bottom up. Waiting for the government to spark change just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Those with the ability to lead the necessary change must do so in order to future-proof our industry.

We fully endorse the findings of Mark Farmer’s government report, aptly titled ‘Modernise or Die’ and believe that specialist contractors can no longer neglect the opportunities available, via schools and universities, to speak candidly about the industry to a younger audience. Actively participating in career events across the UK, it’s disheartening that those from the construction industry are still very much in the minority – especially representatives from main and specialist contractors.

Internal training academies are a key part of any future-proofing strategy - expanding the company skillset

As specialist contractors, there is a duty to ensure that the younger generation are educated on all that the construction industry can offer them – celebrating the extensive range of career paths available. The exciting progress being made within digital construction can be a useful tool when discussing the future of construction with a younger audience, however the necessary resource required in this area needs to be addressed imminently – and can not simply be left to school leavers and graduates to plug the skills gap.

BIM has been pivotal to a number of government initiatives, and subsequent targets for the industry. However, the reality is that BIM is not being fully utilised in any major projects in progress, or those that have recently been completed. Targets have been set, but there has been a considerable lack of appreciation for the additional time needed initially to deploy this new software and introduce the new processes.

The construction industry is still at the early stages of a long, digital journey. But it is happening. And time needs to be invested to develop the specialist resource required. In recent years the industry has focussed its search externally, looking to recruit individuals new to the sector, missing out on the potential development of those currently working in construction. Internal training academies are a key part of any future-proofing strategy, not just for graduate programmes to attract a younger workforce, but also to inspire and progress existing employees – expanding the company skillset to the best of its ability.

However, when discussing how best to future-proof ourselves from the increasing skills shortage, it would be naïve to not recognise that for many companies in our industry it is simply not an option to dedicate the time or necessary funding to implement such methodologies. When speaking at our Supply Chain Conference last month, Mark Farmer spoke of the need to work in a much more integrated way, with multiple businesses coming together in organisational clusters. It is no good future-proofing ourselves as specialist contractors if we are not then willing to support our trusted supply chain partners and ensure that the positive changes being made are felt industry wide. We will all succeed if we succeed together. There is no alternative.

As we clarify our future-proofing strategy, we will be motivating our key supply chain partners to take the methodologies on board and do the same. None of us can complete the high profile projects we work on independently. We must take our collaborative working ethos found onsite and implement it to other avenues within our businesses.

Regardless of whether this behaviour is being filtered down to us by the tier one main contractors, tier two specialist contractors now have the opportunity to experiment with different ways of sharing resource across the supply chain. This could involve making internal training academies accessible to employees of supply chain partners, or even sharing graduate resource. Offering graduates the chance to gain experience in different areas of the supply chain, and inducting them immediately into the collaborative nature of the construction industry that is necessary to its future success.

The skills shortage is not something to plan for, it’s already here. Specialist contractors need to acknowledge this and take a hands-on approach in order to stimulate industry-wide results.