Changing talent strategies: The U.K. construction industry’s need to attract young workers

According to executives interviewed for the Construction Risk Index, risks associated with the megatrend ‘workforce management and talent optimisation’ combine to be the second biggest threat to construction companies over the next 10 years.

The U.K. construction industry faces a number of difficult workforce issues: competition for labour; increasing needs for employees with digital skills; a high rate of retirement; and dispersed employee networks. These concerns were captured in the results of our Construction Risk Index, where construction executives rated ‘limited workforce diversity,’difficulty in attracting and retaining key talent’ and ‘shortage of qualified, experienced staff’ as the top three risks related to workforce management and talent optimisation.

700,000 workers will retire over the next 10 years, putting pressure on employers to keep up with demand

Why are executives concerned about the future availability of skilled workers? Firstly, the most recent industry figures estimate that 700,000 workers will retire over the next 10 years, putting pressure on employers to keep up with demand. Secondly, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors predicts that the industry could lose as many as 200,000 E.U. employees, who make up 8% of the workforce, after Brexit (expected to come into effect 31 March 2019) should the government not seek or be able to negotiate membership of the single market.

However, arguably the biggest threat to the future of the industry is that construction is saddled with certain preconceptions that have led to a lack of interest from the next generation of U.K. workers. A recent government construction report found that the industry has low job appeal for millennials and that construction work is not viewed favourably when compared to other industries (such as technology and finance).

Changing the perception to reflect the current reality

During the interviews conducted for our Construction Risk Index, it was suggested that the real challenge over the coming years is to change the perception of construction as a conservative industry, with an out-dated approach to its workforce, to one of being a dynamic and progressive place to work. Modernising talent strategies to align with new career preferences will clearly become vital if industry players want to win the war on talent and attract a new generation of labour.

Why is construction work not appealing to the young? Contributing factors include a lack of employee development initiatives, low diversity in the workforce and poor job security.

Millennials place inclusion and diversity high on their priority list for prospective employers

Willis Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study 2016 found that only 49% of construction employees agree with a statement that their company supports diversity in the workplace, compared to 63% for all industries. These results are not surprising, given that only 11% of the construction workforce is female, dropping to 1% for workers on site. Millennials place inclusion and diversity high on their priority list for prospective employers, and so the U.K. construction industry needs to be more creative in its approach to talent selection.

As a first-step, several construction leaders commented about the role for both the U.K. government and industry institutions if the industry is to become increasingly successful in promoting itself to millennials. Internally, construction companies should be looking to align their working practices to demographic shifts if they want to attract workers. Substantial investment will be key to developing successful training and reward programs that ensure career development initiatives are embedded into company culture.

One way the industry is already making strides is through technological progress. Embracing digitalisation will lead to a wider array of roles that are likely to be more appealing to younger people, many of whom are engaged with technology and have the necessary digital skills.

Labour shortages will require senior leaders to embrace new talent strategies, with fresh approaches to recruitment and incentive programs

One of the senior leaders interviewed in our Construction Risk Index said: “technology is making this an exciting place to work and we are capturing the imagination of young people”. Technology is not just a way to streamline operations but will also be a key driver in changing the perceptions regarding the construction industry into one of an industry that is a modern and forward-thinking place to work.

It has never been more important for the U.K. construction industry to adapt their working practices to be in line with the changing preferences of younger job seekers. Over the next few years labour shortages will become more acute and will require senior leaders to embrace new talent strategies, with fresh approaches to recruitment and incentive programs.

As the construction industry becomes ‘smarter’, companies may have to play on the same level field as non-construction industries to attract the suitable talent away from other professions that are currently popular with millennials. Even if the U.K. government responds to growing pressure to act on the shortage of skills needed by the construction industry, the winners of the war on talent will be those companies that are already actively working to attract younger people into what can be an exciting and varied career.

About John Roberts

A professional Mechanical Engineer by training, John Roberts joined the insurance industry in 1979.  In 2008 he jo…
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