Talent for construction

How HR can help the construction industry address the recruitment challenge. By Stephanie Murtagh

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge to invest£34 million in construction skills is a step in the right direction to addressing the skills shortage that continues to tighten its grip on the industry. If the Government is to meet its plans to build an extra 300,000 homes each year by the mid-2020s to meet continuing demand, it is estimated that 400,000 extra workers will need to be employed every year.

Tackling the skills shortage has been the biggest challenge the construction industry has ever faced and shows little sign of improving at a time when Britain urgently needs more homes and an improved infrastructure.

Latest figures from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors show little sign of an upturn,with almost two-thirds of surveyors saying a lack of skilled workers is limiting building activity. So severe is the skills gap facing the industry that it has now overtaken planning and regulation as the second biggest problem facing the sector, with 62 per cent reporting recruitment problems in the third quarter of the year.

The factors which have contributed to the skills shortage in the construction industry are well documented. An inability to create a pipeline of new young recruits since the recession, when companies were forced to slash their work forces due to a lack of investment in new projects, has left the industry with an ageing workforce approaching retirement age, with nearly a quarter of construction workers over the age of 50 and 15 per cent over the age of 60.

With over 700,000 workers expected to retire over the next ten years, the industry faces losing valuable knowledge and irreplaceable experience unless it acts fast. Uncertainties surrounding Brexit also threatens to exacerbate the situation, with experts predicting the industry could lose as many as 200,000EU Nationals, who collectively make up 12.1 per cent of the UK workforce, if the government pulls out of the single market.

Career development
The industry’s struggle to find workers is compounded further by the fact that the UK is currently enjoying record low levels of unemployment, meaning there is an ever-shrinking talent pool to attract. According to the Office for National Statistics the jobless rate is 4.3 per cent, its lowest since 1975.

Taking all this into account, how can the construction industry win the war for talent and create a workforce fit for the future? While new Government apprenticeships and training initiatives provide a welcome boost, there is also a responsibility on construction firms to modernise their talent strategies and do more to break down the barriers that are turning away young workers.

To get more young people to consider construction as a career option, the industry must take positive steps to improve its perception and dispel its long-standing image problem. Talk to most people and they will immediately associate construction with hard hats, wet weather and muddy boots.

A government survey highlighted how young people view a career in the construction industry, with 14 to 19 year olds scoring it an average of 4.2 out of ten. Industries like finance and technology performed best.

To change general attitudes towards construction, the industry must provide more clarity about what a career in construction actually entails and do more to promote the diverse jobs and professions that make up the industry as a whole. The future for the construction industry looks positively bright at the moment, with fresh investment creating new projects, so it is critical to highlight the prospects for career development that exist.

Construction’s slow recovery from the recession meant that the sector almost missed out an entire generation of workers who potentially had a lot to offer the sector – millennials. Unless the industry changes fast it also faces the prospect of missing out on Generation Z too.

A key characteristic of millennials and Gen Z’ers is that they like to work in roles in which they are not only challenged, but can make a difference and give back to society. At a time when the Government is aiming to tackle the housing crisis, now is a good time to communicate the positive social good of the sector and how workers can contribute to the housing provision going forward by choosing a career in the sector. Individuals will no longer wait to stumble on the right job so it is down to the industry to stir interest and inspire.

People strategy
To entice a younger demographic, construction firms must ensure their recruitment process meets the flexibility and creativity levels expected. To do this it is critical to get into their mind set.Having grown up in a digital age and with immediate access to information at their fingertips, young candidates have higher hopes from their prospective employers, and are more likely to be interested in firms that on the surface appear to be modern and dynamic.

Social media platforms, websites and application portals are typically the first experience a potential candidate has of a prospective employer.First impressions count so it is important that construction companies capitalise on this opportunity and deliver multimedia content that is captivating and engaging and shows off the company brand at its best. This needs to be supported by a fast paced recruitment process built on regular personalised communications so that both parties can quickly assess whether they are a right match for each other.

After going to all that effort to attract new recruits, it is critical that construction firms are able to retain their top talent and reduce the flight risk. Any recruitment strategy needs to be followed up with a personalised training programme that supports their ongoing career development and which makes them feel motivated and meeting their full potential. At a time when construction firms are facing a real battle for the best talent there has never been a more important time for construction firms to revisit their people strategy.

Those that are able to attract the best young candidates, develop their skill sets and retain their talents in line with their business needs will be best placed to not only address the skills shortage but gain a competitive edge.

Stephanie Murtagh is Product Marketing Manager at MHR, a specialist provider of HR and payroll software and services, helping organisations of all shapes and sizes to strengthen their core – their people. MHR combines the stability, expertise and proven methodologies of a long-established provider, with the innovative forward-thinking vision of an agile growing business, to provide a winning partnership to its customers and employees.

For more information, please see www.mhr.co.uk