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An increasing lack of skilled workers could hit the construction sector

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World Cement,

The UK construction industry is on target to meet the needs of a growing UK population but an increasing lack of skilled workers could hit the sector, according to new research.

With the UK population expected to rise to 74.5 million by 2050, figures from specialist construction recruiter Randstad CPE reveal the industry will need 1.02 million workers to meet future demands.

So far the overall signs are promising with employment growth in the industry a third above where it needs to be. The construction industry needs to grow, on average, by 9650 workers a year (since 2008) and to employ 663 000 to avoid a slowdown. Figures from Randstad reveal there are currently 875 000 people employed in construction although this high figure may be distorted by large infrastructure projects such as Crossrail which disguise the true scale of the skills gap.

It is this skills gap, which is in danger of affecting growth in certain sectors if it isn’t addressed. Engineering is 48 000 workers short and other sectors are starting to show minor gaps between what is needed and what the reality is.

Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad Construction, Property and Engineering, said the main problem lies in attracting and retaining skilled construction workers, many of whom had moved overseas during the last recession.

He said: “The UK lost a lot of skilled construction talent over the course of the downturn as overseas markets offered more work and better pay. Fortunately, the domestic construction environment has improved over the last year as large-scale infrastructure projects have boosted demand.

“This demand has allowed the sector to increase the number of people in the workforce, however, significant skills gaps are still apparent. Put simply, the number of unskilled workers aren’t an issue for the industry, but attracting and retaining highly skilled people whether it’s in trades, technical or professions such as surveying is a challenge that still needs to be tackled.”

Mr Goodhead said changes by HMRC to construction workers having to prove they are self-employed rather than employed and liable for tax and national insurance under PAYE also made it harder to retain skilled workers.

Engineering in danger of falling behind

Out of all sectors engineering is facing the biggest skills gap with an extra 48 000 needed to support population growth. Fewer graduates entering the industry and a tightening of immigration rules, making it harder to employ workers from overseas, has led to a drop in qualified engineers from 340 000 in 2008 to 317 000 in 2013.

The sector will need 365 000 workers if it is to grow in line with the UK population by 2050.

Mr Goodhead said: “Onerous immigration rules are discouraging foreign talent from applying for UK-based jobs and contributing to the skills shortage in this sector.

“This needs to be tackled now and graduates need to be offered greater incentives to get them into the industry or the gap will only get worse over time.”

However, overall the UK-wide workforce is facing shortages and is 268 000 employees shy of the required number to meet long term growth forecasts.

Plugging the skills gap

Mr Goodhead said the skills gap needed to be tackled now if a slowdown in long-term growth was to be avoided. He said research had shown a strong link between companies who are ahead of target and the fulfilment of their employees. The more fulfilled they are the more likely they are to stay in their positions.

Two thirds of construction workers (66%) revealed they felt fulfilled whilst nearly three quarters of workers in IT felt happy at work.

Mr Goodhead said: “If a workforce feels professionally fulfilled then retention rates are more likely to be higher. Similarly, industries with high levels of professional fulfilment will be more attractive to those yet to choose a career path. If the construction and engineering sector is to continue to grow and attract skilled workers to return to the UK over the coming decades, then maximising professional fulfilment will be as important a ensuring a good migration balance.”

Mr Goodhead said now was a great time to get into the construction sector because the growing skills shortage meant those with the right abilities would be in great demand.

He added: “More graduates are needed in engineering, architecture and construction planning. Helping to plug the skills gaps in the construction industry means your talents will be highly valued by employers.

“Even those without a relevant qualification should still consider the industry, as it offers employees a varied and exciting career.”

Edited from source by Joseph Green. Source: Randstad CPE

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