How can UK construction survive a skills shortage?

The shrinking pool of skilled workers is a growing challenge for the UK construction industry, particularly as Brexit uncertainties have been prolonged. So how can the industry ensure they have the workforce needed to meet demand?

Those working within the industry will be well aware that a ‘skills gap’ has been developing for a number of years now. The 2016 Farmer Review highlighted the scale of the skills gap, predicting a 20-25% decline in the available construction workforce within a decade.  That’s a substantial percentage of the workforce to lose, and will undoubtedly undermine our ability to deliver critical infrastructure and housing in the future.

Three years on from the Farmer Review, there are certainly some concerning signs that the skills gap is widening. In early 2019, two-thirds of construction SMEs reported difficulties in hiring bricklayers, for example, while almost 60 per cent struggled to find carpenters[1]. A recent survey also found that average salaries across the sector rose by 9% in the past year[2], which may be beneficial for individuals, but is yet another indication of the increasing value and scarcity of skilled workers.

Bridging the skills gap isn’t something that the construction industry can achieve alone – they need wider support from the Government. Many key players within the industry have called on the Government to create more apprenticeship opportunities, for example, and as a result, they have pledged to create 3 million new apprenticeships (across all sectors) by 2020. But construction organisations also have a role to play in reversing the skills gap, and by taking a few simple actions, they can future-proof their own workforce.

How can construction companies help bridge the gap?

  • Engage the next generation

One of the root causes of the lack of skilled workers is the dwindling numbers of young people entering the construction industry. We have an ageing workforce – around 22% of the current workforce is over 50, while 15% are in their 60s, so it’s vital to encourage younger generations to join the industry.

Attracting young people into a career in construction is something that all construction organisations should be getting involved in. It can be as simple as visiting local schools to talk to children at different stages, to build their awareness of the diverse range of roles within the industry and the different routes they can take to enter the industry. You should also consider attending careers fairs at sixth forms and universities, to engage with young people who are about to make important career decisions – you may find some promising candidates for your own vacancies.

  • Retrain experienced employees

We have an ageing workforce – around 22% of the current workforce is over 50, while 15% are in their 60s. Many of these workers will bring a wealth of experience to the job that is extremely valuable to their organisation – so it’s important to hold on to these workers for as long as possible.

This is where retraining is key. While those in their 60s may not want or be able to continue a role that requires hard labour, for example, retraining them for a less physical position may enable you to keep their expertise within your organisation. Assess each worker’s skillset and consider how they could be useful elsewhere within your business – could they train apprentices, for instance?

  • Encourage greater diversity

Unfortunately, there’s a real lack of diversity within the construction industry, with white males comprising the vast majority of the workforce. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people make up less than 12% of the construction sector’s workforce, for example, while women also account for just 12% of employees.

Focusing on diversity will provide you with a wider pool of potential skilled workers, who could bring new ideas to the table and help you to connect with a wider range of clients. To find these candidates, you may need to adapt your existing recruitment processes – attending local events you haven’t previously, for example, or widening the geographic scope of your recruiting.

 Supporting the construction industry

 At Constructionline, we know that the shortage of skilled workers is just one of the challenges facing the construction industry. That’s why we’re striving to make it simpler for quality buyers and suppliers to find each other, with live projects listed on our platform and a large database of pre-qualified supplier members.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can support your organisation, visit





Blog SMEs, Brexit, Skills shortage