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OPINION: 3 ways to tackle the talent gap and get more young people into construction

Andy Moss, managing director of employer solutions at City & Guilds

'A staggering 98% of young women said they wouldn’t choose a career in construction' (Credit: Shutterstock)
'A staggering 98% of young women said they wouldn’t choose a career in construction' (Credit: Shutterstock)

The construction industry has been suffering from a skills shortage for some time.

This was worsened by the impact of Brexit, which saw the number of people from Europe working in the sector shrink significantly. A lack of awareness of opportunities amongst young people and those that advise them has also hindered construction businesses’ efforts to recruit the young talent needed to fill the skills gap.

Recent research from economic modeller Lightcast estimated that the industry will need to fill a staggering 250,000 job vacancies between 2022-2027. If these vacancies are not filled, the construction sector is unlikely to be able to reach its full potential. So, what is going on?

Construction work is failing to appeal to younger people

At City & Guilds, the recent “Youth Misspent” research found that only 6% of 18-24-year-olds identified the construction sector as somewhere they would like to work. A staggering 98% of young women said they wouldn’t choose a career in construction.

The main reasons respondents gave were that they lacked the right skills (34%), that they were dissuaded by manual work (35%), and that they felt they lacked the right knowledge about the careers available within the construction sector (28%).

The findings reveal a systemic issue with supplying the construction talent pipeline, particularly from young people. But all is not lost – here are three steps that industry could take to address the challenge and fill the critical skills shortages.

1. Engage with young people via the skills system to provide better opportunities and progression

Apprenticeships, skills bootcamps and T-levels are three initiatives already on offer for employers to help recruit and train young talent, but they are underused. More employers need to invest their time and resources in engaging with these programmes to help foster a new generation of skilled workers.

Closer collaboration between employers, government and learning providers will help to ensure that qualifications and training programmes are refined to meet the needs of the construction sector and provide a long-term solution to skills shortages.

2. Provide more work experience, paid internships or training opportunities, and work with education providers to raise awareness of careers on offer

Work experience is often a core part of the Year 11 curriculum. Approaching schools to offer week-long work experience placements within a construction company will increase accessibility and encourage young people to consider what a career in construction would be like. Additionally, T-levels require substantial work placements that are essential to the course, but many colleges report difficulty in finding enough businesses willing and able to offer them.

These experiences can span the wealth of roles in construction that young people are unlikely to know even exist, from manufacturing to marketing. What they imagine a career is like is often different to its day-to-day reality and experiencing a role first-hand can demystify ideas about the sector and spark an unexpected interest. 

By engaging with local schools, colleges and learning centres, employers in the construction sector can influence young people to consider such careers early on in their education. Research has shown that many young people will have made firm decisions about their future from early secondary school age, so it’s essential that employers engage with schools early on to ensure that young people can make informed decisions about their future. 

3. Make it easier for young people, especially the most disadvantaged, to access jobs and progress in their careers

Young people without work experience are likely to be unfamiliar with job application processes and can find them intimidating. They may even avoid applying for roles that they are a good fit for, as they might feel they don’t meet the criteria because of that lack of experience.

By widening the application process to focus on attitude and aptitude, young people will feel more empowered to apply for roles and become more comfortable with the idea of learning on the job. This way, they can focus on what personality traits make them a good fit, rather than the construction-specific skills that they cannot be expected to have at such an early stage in life. 

Prioritising a good attitude and an appetite for learning in the recruitment process will foster a better view of the construction industry as a place of lifelong learning and promote a healthier workforce that is more accessible for young people.

Employers should also consider where and how roles are advertised, exploring new opportunities to reach underrepresented groups through different kinds of media and engaging directly with those communities. By making it clear that opportunities are open to all through the language used in job adverts, people from underrepresented groups can be encouraged to consider roles they might otherwise dismiss.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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