The construction industry is facing its biggest workforce crisis. Data from the 2011 census shows an ageing workforce with one fifth predicted to be in retirement by 2020.
The solution is to diversify the workforce and attract more young people into the industry with high quality jobs in civil engineering and other aspects of construction. Modern apprenticeships and learning on the job may only be a part of the solution.
The skills gap in engineering
The engineering sector has a strong multiplying effect on the UK economy, adding an estimated £1.45 GVA for every £1 generated and worth an estimated £486bn or over a quarter of the country's GDP in 2015 alone.
But applications for jobs in civil engineering have fallen as working in construction is seen as undesirable by young people. While 50% are interested in the STEM subjects, only 10% would consider a career in construction. The result is that an estimated 182,000 recruits with a Level 4 and above qualification will be required per year until 2022 to bridge the skills gap.
Challenging outdated perception
Basic misconceptions about the engineering sector have contributed to the decline. Civil engineering is perceived as being dominated by men and unwelcoming to women. Yet exciting innovations, opportunities to use skills gained through gaming and hobbies and revolutionary tech are creating roles and opportunities that are rare in other careers.
Offering Gen Z flexitime opportunities, financial perks and free coffees is a relatively low cost way of attracting young talent. And with a relatively large pool of STEM candidates at their disposal, civil engineering firms can generate interest with opportunities that focus on anything but hard hats and hi-vis.
Focus on education
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced an overhaul of further education in the UK to implement a German-style system as part of the government's agenda to level up opportunities and skills across the country.
20% of adults in German have some level of technical qualification having undertaken a combination of practical and theoretical studies. German businesses offer work experience and apprenticeships to create a well qualified workforce.
Apprenticeships can provide the backbone for a career in civil engineering with hands on experience that challenges misconceptions and opens the door to a range of opportunities. New further education routes into the industry will also prove vital in closing the skills gap that is currently impacting on construction and engineering.
Removing the stigma from jobs in the construction industry and engineering is the proven route to engaging a vibrant, young and diverse workforce with the opportunity for a highly rewarding career whether that's implementing technologies such as AR and VR or honing their skills as a drone pilot.
Engineering needs to do more to attract the interest of young people as they take their STEM subject A Levels. It's up to the industry to educate young people on what it means to be an engineer and to positively reinforce the exciting and challenging careers available in the civil engineering sector.