The findings in this year’s Good Employer Guide provide some answers to the current issues construction is facing today in relation to the attraction and retention of the right people

Construction’s chronic skills shortage is likely to be exacerbated by the prospect of Brexit and the expected clampdown on workers entering the UK from the EU. Mark Farmer’s Modernise or Die report last year warned of a 25% fall in the workforce over the next decade due to the numbers expected to retire, and that was without factoring in the Brexit effect. Already a lack of skilled workers is having a detrimental impact on businesses who struggle to recruit the people they need. Building’s own recent survey of salaries among contractors showed that 61% of employers say skills shortages are adversely affecting productivity.

So what can be done to attract the right people in the right numbers to construction, and just as importantly, once recruited what can be done to ensure they want to remain in the industry? We think the 50 companies in this year’s Building Good Employer Guide have some of the answers by insisting on high standards when it comes to working conditions, training and development, benefits and work-life balance.

An encouraging finding this year is that nearly all the companies in the guide spend time and resources on outreach initiatives, working to improve the image of construction through visits to schools and colleges, with some doing pro bono work on community projects. This approach appears to have the dual benefit of attracting a more diverse intake to construction while providing existing staff with rewarding work that they feel makes a real difference. It has had some tangible results: in the guide women make up 27% of the overall staff numbers, well above the 13% in the rest of the industry – while non-white staff represent 13%, which is just below the proportion of ethnic minorities in the general population.

An encouraging finding is that nearly all the companies in the guide spend time and resources on outreach initiatives, working to improve construction’s image through visits to schools and colleges

This year’s guide is proof that some employers are overturning old cultures, with the vast majority embracing flexible working for all staff and many making the effort to curb long hours. There is also a continued recognition of the pressures on parents, through generous maternity and paternity leave packages and encouraging fathers to take up their recent entitlement to parental leave. Admittedly the uptake of parental leave by fathers is low, as it has been in almost every sector since it was introduced in 2015, but the hope for those wanting a level playing field in the workplace is that this rises in coming years.

It’s also welcome to see career development is still a clear priority for employers, and it seems engineering firms this year come out on top for sheer number of training hours offered. Meanwhile, the working environment in the office and staff’s mental wellbeing continue to be a concern. Stand-out offers include Architype’s yoga and meditation groups and the counselling service at Alinea.

Beyond the rewards these individual companies reap from their efforts, we should recognise that they are also doing a service to the wider industry by helping to change the public’s overwhelmingly negative perceptions of construction. When teachers and careers advisers are telling pupils that careers in construction are unattractive, there is a clear need to show the industry at its best and to shout loudly about the opportunities it offers young people. These top employers have set the bar high and their achievements are truly commendable.