The construction industry is being continually challenged. We are required to deliver more quickly, more cost effectively, to increase quality standards, to incorporate modern ways of working, to reduce emissions and to do all of this against a backdrop of ongoing recruitment and retention issues.
It is very clear that the current workforce is not large enough to deliver against all of the UK's infrastructure, domestic and commercial requirements and to embrace and embody the regulatory changes that will be required to deliver carbon efficiencies and a cleaner, greener planet in line with ambitious government targets.
Addressing this challenge and welcoming a new wave of construction professionals may feel like an unrealistic dream at the moment, but by embracing digitalisation, it could be possible.
Why the skills gap exists
There are many reasons why the skills gap exists and these have been covered at length in previous posts. Ultimately, there are insufficient new entrants to replace the experienced professionals who are retiring, and this is due in part to demographic shifts and a perception that easier work in other professions offers more competitive remuneration.
The construction industry is still viewed as a bricks and mortar profession that is devoid of the technological skills that education is instilling into tomorrow's job-seeker. We all know that this is not the case, but unless we educate the next generation, recruitment issues will continue unabated.
How digitalisation could provide the answer
The modern school-leaver is a technically literate individual with a strong financial acumen. These are the qualities that the education system demands, so attracting these individuals to the construction workplace requires that businesses within the industry re-evaluate the roles that they offer.
They need to promote the tools and technologies that exist to create the homes and businesses of the future. The Internet of Things (IoT), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) are attractive modern technologies that new entrants will easily assimilate and exploit to great effect.
These candidates are familiar with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Many are gamers at heart, used to automating repetitive functions and they enjoy testing new situations and scenarios. They are perfectly placed to contribute to the designs of the future. They have no concept of how it's always been done and can challenge existing processes, stress test proposals and help to develop a streamlined and effective way of doing business.
Attracting this tech-savvy generation
So we've established that the current tranche of school-leavers are the very workforce that we wish to target, creating an upcoming pipeline of talent to address the challenges that the industry is facing, but how do we attract them?
They may not wish to work with their hands, outside in all weathers. They are likely to be deep thinkers rather than practical, hands-on individuals. Aren't they? Well, some will be. Others will rise to the challenge. When you promote the benefits of the construction industry, they will be swayed and enticed into a future that offers the challenges and rewards that they crave.
The first step is to bridge the generational divide. The existing workforce must understand the benefits that millennials and Gen Z candidates will deliver. They must make space for them to thrive and offer them the benefit of their experience. Only by working together will shared goals be attained.
It is essential that the industry explains the way in which it plans to achieve carbon reduction targets and seeks out the candidates best placed to support them in their endeavours. School-leavers are environmentally-conscious individuals with a deep understanding of the political agenda for climate change, so they can bring immeasurable benefits to businesses seeking out these next-gen skills.
Enhancing employee wellbeing is essential to create a strong and resilient workforce, so implementing all necessary worker safety protocols will not only help to keep the current workforce fit for work for longer, but will be an attractive incentive to new joiners to pursue the physical side of the industry.
Construction businesses should promote the training and career development opportunities that they can offer, encouraging uptake and supporting personnel to expand their skill set to fulfil a wide variety of roles, thus adding benefit throughout the business.
In conclusion, innovative solutions are required to address the challenges that the construction industry is facing. Growing the workforce is crucial, but where traditional methods of recruitment are failing, it is necessary to consider digitalisation among the requisite changes that are necessary to attract a new generation of construction professionals.