If you work in construction, the chances are you've already heard about the skills crisis facing the industry. We've got the one-two punch of an ageing workforce and a lack of skilled new talent entering the game. That's bad news for construction, meaning we could be seeing a 25% drop in the labour pool over the next 10 years. While the country argues over what "Brexit" means in general, for construction it probably means less EU labour making up the shortfall.

Inside the UK, the number of unemployed people with construction experience is falling. Back in 2010, there were over 218,000 people actively looking for construction jobs. Since 2014, though, the number hasn't even topped 100,000. At first glance, you might almost think that sounds like good news. After all, low unemployment's a good thing, right?

The problem is, it also means that the available talent pools' shrinking. As older workers are retiring, they aren't getting replaced by skilled newcomers. Partly, that's down to a shortage of training opportunities. There's been a general push toward making apprenticeships attractive and effective for younger people. That's great in itself, but it's only been a half-measure so far. It also doesn't do much to stop already-skilled workers leaving the industry altogether. Retaining existing staff is every bit as important as encouraging in new blood, and right now neither is being done effectively.

So, what's the answer? How can the construction industry keep the skilled workers it's got today and build up the workforce of tomorrow?

One possible solution might be casting the recruitment net a little wider. Looking outside of construction itself, there are other industries where the kinds of skills workers have might overlap.

There's also a strong argument for modernising construction at its core, shifting toward a less labour-intensive model. Better use of technology could shift some of the weight off an overloaded workforce.

Increased automation and use of digital tools could cut down on waste and over-reliance on manpower. They might also lead to the industry relying on a less narrow and specialised range of skills in its workers themselves. That in itself could make construction a more obvious and attractive choice for new talent.

There's no single magic bullet for any of the problems facing construction right now. With a largely self-employed workforce, the industry's struggling to get the right skills into the right hands. It's a particular issue for self-employed workers, too. Often they can't afford to take the time away from paid job to go on training courses - especially when the courses themselves can be expensive. Understandably employers don't offer training to contractors as they need them around only for the duration of a job, and they aren't going to want to invest in a person who may be working for someone else in a few weeks time.

Tackling that skills gap is going to be the big battleground for construction's future. Some good work's already being done with apprenticeships and modernisation with the UCATT becoming part of UNITE, construction workers will have a strong voice to speak for them.

Remember that if you have been on training courses the costs of training can already be claimed back in your CIS Tax Refund or Self Assessment, as can your cost of travel to courses, and meals and subsistence while there if you're PAYE. You can claim this money back for the last 4 tax years, if you have the evidence of what you've spent.

 

It's going to take a lot to either avoid or survive that predicted massive drop in available workforce over the next decade, though. It's a whole new world out there, and it's not just the workers who'll have to adapt to it.

Use our Tax Refund Calculator to find out if you're due any money back from HRMC.