Just as the fenestration and construction sectors continue to battle chronic supply issues, a new report out in the last few weeks has said that UK construction needs a whopping 217,000 new workers by just 2025.
As the country seeks to boost infrastructure projects and house building, the skills gap in the entire construction sector is becoming ever more clear.
Construction worker shortage
The fenestration sector knows this all too well. Indeed, during this exceptional period of high demand, our industry is struggling to find the people it needs to be able to facilitate growth properly. As it is, companies are being held back from maximising their growth potential.
In construction, it appears to be the same. There is a shortage of workers in a wide variety of areas, and that shortage is going to become more acute as larger infrastructure and mass home retrofit projects take off.
The reality is that as bigger projects fire up and more mass-market activity builds, there are going to be delays to these getting finished due to a lack of labour. We’re already seeing this, with some construction sites having to pause work for a number of reasons, including not having enough of the right people on sites, as well as material shortages.
Delays to projects and home renovations and new-builds are going to hold back the recovery and will limit how far the bounce-back can go. This is far from ideal as there is a huge demand for new homes to help a large part of a whole generation of people unable to get on the housing ladder.
The problem is, there is no clear way to see how the construction sector and indeed the fenestration sector are going to be able to attract the people needed to meet demand over the next few years.
Where will they come from?
We have long known about the lack of workers in our sector and construction. It’s an issue known for well over a decade. With school-leavers ushered to universities and trades willingly ignored by successive governments for a good thirty years, we are now well short on all the vital people we need to build the very things this country needs to be able to progress.
Sadly, becoming a builder, a window fitter, plasterer or roofer is no longer seen as a viable career. Yet, the demand for these roles has never been more acute, so surely this is a stereotype that needs to be eradicated and done so quickly.
The reality is that tradespeople who are in high demand at the moment are also earning some very good money. Perhaps that is something that needs to be communicated to younger people still wondering what path to take in life. Building homes, being part of a larger project, fitting windows and doors can be rewarding and enjoyable, so long as you put the effort in. In time, the financial benefits will more than pay off that effort put in at the start. You only need to go on the Facebook forums to see what some companies are offering to get people to work for them.
It’s not clear though where we’re going to find the people we all need. Some workers from the EU have gone back home following Brexit. 1.5m remain on furlough, so there is likely little motivation there if people are being paid to stay at home. The image of construction and fenestration requires improvement. Apprenticeship take-up remains low. There are plenty of school-leavers out there, and lots looking for a career change, but for a variety of reasons, they’re not looking in our direction.
Efforts from individual sectors are trying to turn the tide and attract more young people towards our part of the economy, but its slow progress and the lure of other jobs or continued education at university means that we continue to run a labour deficit. If we are to have any hope of recruiting the people we all need in the vast numbers required it’s probably going to take government intervention to help do that.
The issue for me is that the education system continues to be heavily weighed in favour of universities. Secondary schools have incentives to send as many pupils as possible. So whilst that is the case, they’re likely to never look at offering kids an alternative seriously. The tragedy is, there will be a percentage of kids being told to go to uni, even though they may not be right for that route and would be better suited to something a bit more hands-on, like a trade. Until some balance can be restored within the education system, I think we’re up against an almost impossible fight.
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