Construction labour shortage Ellis Fox Blog

Navigating the Construction Labour Crisis

Labour shortages are nothing new to construction. For years the industry has been warning of the diminishing pool of senior expertise as professionals retire or exit the industry. But now the crunch is being felt at all levels, with main contractors reporting they’re having to pay up to 18% more for unskilled labour because there are simply not enough workers available.

While the default may be to blame Brexit and the UK’s more complex immigration laws, industry surveys show that numbers of UK born construction workers were declining even before these factors came into play. It’s one of the reasons construction became so reliant on foreign born labour.

It’s a natural human default to want to know why this has happened and who is to blame. But the reality is those findings won’t change a thing in today’s construction environment. The better question to ask now is WHAT?

  • What can construction do to encourage more people to enter the industry?
  • What are the barriers that can be easily removed to speed up this process?
  • What are the blindspots hindering construction recruitment?
  • What does the future of construction look like if the skills gap can’t be closed?

Let’s start with the worse-case scenario. The cost of labour has already increased. This combined with materials shortages and rising prices is squeezing construction’s already tight margins. Unfortunately unless construction companies choose to invest in skills development, the situation is not going to get better. It’s a big ask, but the alternative of decreasing labour availability and continuing increasing costs is worse.

For the past year and a half construction contracts have steadily increased and significantly more investment is in the pipeline. This positive outlook may cause main contractors to overlook the glaring blindspots hindering the industry.  The gender pay gap remains wide and few companies have made efforts to close it. Perhaps some construction leaders see these as minor details, but the female workforce offers a depth of expertise that remains largely untapped because of the biases that remain in construction. These are barriers that can be easily removed if business leaders take decisive steps to remedy the situation.

School leavers are digital natives and are naturally attracted to jobs in technology. But there is an opportunity to attract young talent if construction adopts technology in more of its processes and makes a point of showcasing technology applications in construction.