Geoffrey Makstutis is Subject Lead in Construction for Pearson Higher Education Qualifications

The sector needs to work harder to cultivate the next generation of construction talent.

Geoffrey Makstutis is the Subject Lead for Higher Nationals in Construction for Pearson’s Higher Education Qualifications team

The UK construction industry is at a crossroads. At the very moment where the housing crisis and need for new infrastructure demand that we unleash a supply of skilled construction workers, the pool looks set to run worryingly dry in the decades ahead.

The construction workforce is aging, and the question mark that Brexit presents over many workers’ future right to work in the UK exacerbates an already looming labour shortage. It has been calculated that we will need 44,000 new skilled people entering the construction industry per year for the next twenty years to meet demand. Of these, more than 5,000 per year will need to be highly skilled, proficient in IT and building information modelling, digital engineering and other highly-skilled non-site related activities. Yet despite this demand, in a 2016 study, construction-related careers were not a top choice for school leavers. Much of this can be attributed to enduring misconceptions about what a career in the sector entails.

Ask your average school leaver what a construction worker looks like and they will most likely describe someone akin to a middle-aged bricklayer in a yellow hard hat. The reality of the modern construction industry is very different. Advances such as modular construction, building information modelling and experimental materials set construction apart as one of the most innovative sectors of the economy today; many of today’s construction workers are more likely to be programming digital models than mixing cement. The challenge that we, as an industry, face is getting school and college leavers to realise this.

In recent years other subjects, such as physics, maths and the STEM subjects, faced a similar problem. Like in construction, preconceptions about ‘who’ entered those fields limited the number of entrants. However, a series of highly successful government-led campaigns have transformed this issue. To offset the looming challenges presented by Brexit and an ageing workforce, similar action needs to be taken in the construction sector.

The sector would also benefit from being more vocal about the opportunities available to those looking to enter the construction industry. Construction is changing; with new technologies, new approaches and new opportunities. For the good of our economy we need to make clear that a career in construction doesn’t need to begin and end on the building site and that the opportunities for skill development and career progression are vast. While there will always be a need for skilled tradespeople,

working on and off-site, there are new careers that leverage a knowledge of the construction process combined with specialised IT skills. From a training perspective, a range of options are open to give students the skills they need to succeed in the new construction industry: Higher National Diplomas, apprenticeships, traditional degrees. All of these options and opportunities must be better communicated if we are to meet our pressing demand for skilled workers.

The scale of the challenge that we currently face is huge. We need to build 300,000 homes per year to tackle the housing crisis and much of our transport infrastructure is long overdue an upgrade, particularly outside of London and the South East. If we are to meet these challenges head on we need to set bold and ambitious targets for recruiting the very best construction talent. The only way we can do this is by quashing long-held preconceptions about what a career in construction entails and providing clear educational and vocational routes to new roles in the industry.

Let’s get to work.

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