To attract new talent the industry has to improve its record on big issues such as long hours, employing people from diverse backgrounds and dealing with workplace stress
There’s no denying that skills shortages are suddenly centre stage. Whether you’re Roy Hodgson pondering your selection for your summer sojourn in Brazil or a civil engineering contractor looking to recruit new blood to resource new orders , the issue is one of talent.
For construction, the topic is back on the agenda with a vengeance after five years of recession that saw upwards of a quarter of a million people leave the industry. Rising workloads, driven by resurgent housebuilding, are making recruitment and retention of staff an issue across the board - from construction sites to consultants’ offices and contractor boardrooms.
It’s this context that makes a new Building initiative, launched this week, particularly timely.
Building A Better Balance will look closely at the issues affecting those who work in the industry and ask tough questions about why employers seem to have failed to make the leap into the 21st century. It will also ask why our sector’s record on issues such as working hours and employing women, black and ethnic minority staff seems relatively poor.
With the country this week marking Mental Health Awareness Week, this series of features starts with a look at how the industry deals with employees suffering from workplace stress, depression and other mental health problems. Not well, seems to be the response.
The fact that the most recent reliable data on this subject - which found that 5% of staff are suffering from an illness related to stress, depression or anxiety - comes from 2006 tells you a lot about the priority the industry gives the issue
The testimony of one construction director who was driven close to suicide by a combination of personal troubles and workplace stress tells you all you need to know about an environment that discourages people from admitting to mental health problems for fear of stigmatisation, despite the fact that the industry’s culture of deadlines and long hours exacerbates the problems.
But the fact that the most recent reliable data on this subject - which found that 5% of staff are suffering from an illness related to stress, depression or anxiety - comes from 2006 tells you a lot about the priority the industry gives the issue.
The failure to tackle employment problems is repeated in a number of areas: the lack of women in the industry (just 13% of the sector’s workforce according to 2012 Office for National Statistics data) and a scarcity of ethnic minority employees (represented at less than half the rate of the UK population) are well-known facts, but little has been done to address them.
So despite what the government’s laudable Construction 2025 strategy says about creating an industry that is “known for its talented and diverse workforce”,
we still have a long way to go.
Of course, there is also good practice and great employers - something Building is planning to celebrate with its Building Good Employer Guide 2014. There are leaders such as Ray O’Rourke who are willing to speak out against the long-hours culture that makes the sector less desirable for new entrants, particularly women.
These issues - dismissed by some as politically correct obsessions - have everything to do with the skills shortages the industry is struggling with. Aside from the moral obligation to be a better employer, it is vital for the industry’s health that it looks for staff from a wider pool.
The sector makes much of improving outreach to schools and universities to boost the talent coming in. But this implies the problem is solely one of selling the industry better.
Instead, the sector is best advised to urgently improve its offering for new entrants from diverse backgrounds if it wants to address this chronic shortage of talent.
Joey Gardiner, deputy editor
Does your firm exemplify diversity, good leadership and employee motivation?
The Building Good Employer Guide is an annual celebration of the best companies to work for in the industry. Successful entrants will be featured in a supplement in October and listed on the Building website for 12 months.
For a chance to be included in this year’s guide register your details at building.co.uk/BGEG2014enter