If you’ve been paying attention recently, then you already know that the building trade’s getting dangerously short-handed these days. Construction industry veterans are ageing out of the game, and there’s not enough new blood to take up the skills slack. Meanwhile, Brexit stress is threatening to put even more pressure on an over-stretched workforce, and while the shortage of skilled labour is driving up wages, it’s also strapping a rocket to project costs. Here’s the latest news on one of UK construction’s biggest challenges.

£17.8 million boost to training for the next generation of construction workers

With the ambitious goal of pumping 18,000 trained pairs of hands into UK construction, the CITB’s Onsite Experience Commission is opening up funding to the industry in the next few months. Between now and 2024, the building trade’s going to need an estimated 168,500 new skilled workers to keep up with demand. This new £17.8 million investment programme will also be boosting support for businesses offering apprenticeships, and is geared around both training up new workers and keeping hold of those we already have. 20 hubs are being set up on sites across the UK, picking out areas and trades where more skilled workers are needed and working with employers and educators to bridge the gap.

The Construction industry is also looking to employ more people from other sectors who have the skills that they need. Armed Forces Veterans are being actively targeted by organisations such as the CIOB to bring their skills and experience into management posts in construction

Building on shaky ground in Northern Ireland

There’s been a recovery going on in Northern Ireland’s construction sector. In the last several months alone, activity’s jumped up by a whopping 23%. Despite the strong figures and accompanying optimism, that impressive recovery’s already being put under threat by a lack of skilled workers. According to the Federation of Master builders (FMB), it’s the smaller firms that are feeling the strain the most. About 50% of NI construction SMEs are having a tough time reliably filling key skilled roles ranging from carpenters and bricklayers to site managers. Part of the problem stems from the steady draining of talent to the mainland, but the current Stormont political impasse takes a fair share of the blame too. FMB director Maire Nawaz has this to say:

“The NI Government needs to agree a way forward and work with the industry to ensure adequate capital and infrastructure spending is put in place. We also need to find a way of attracting enough people into a career in construction. We’re keen to work with ministers and other bodies to ensure this happens and prevent the lack of skilled tradespeople endangering the sector’s potential for future growth.”

Will digital technology save construction?

A large part of the long-term planning taking place in construction revolves around developing and adopting new technologies. The government has committed itself to prioritising highly skilled EU labour in its immigration policies, but that alone won’t solve the problem if the industry itself isn’t set up to make best use of them. The general perception of construction is still pretty unglamorous, and people with the increasingly essential digital skills the industry’s crying out for aren’t even considering careers in building. Meanwhile, the word “upskilling” is being thrown about a lot, and that’s no bad thing. Investing in existing workers will go a long way toward demonstrating that there are no “dead-end jobs” in construction. That’s going to be critical at a time when skilled workers are dangerously thin on the ground. Leaning into new technologies can take the heat off a traditionally manpower-focused industry, but we’re still going to need people with the right digital skills to deal with it. That’s a broader issue, and it reaches right out into altering the ways we think and talk about construction. That conversation needs to change in our heads, on our worksites and – crucially – in our schools and training courses.

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