The construction industry is confronted with an ongoing and pronounced scarcity of skilled workers, resulting in a consistent and high number of job vacancies. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that the sector had 48,000 unfilled positions during the three-month period leading up to March, maintaining the same level as February. This figure experienced an increase of 10,000 compared to the previous month, underscoring the severity of the issue.
Kieran Boyle, the managing director of CKB Recruitment, a reputable recruitment group headquartered in Gloucester, characterises the skills gap in the construction sector as nothing short of "gargantuan." He emphasises the prevailing candidate-centric nature of the job market, highlighting the urgent need for companies to adopt flexible working practices. Such practices have become increasingly desired by individuals seeking employment opportunities. Boyle recognises that embracing flexibility is a crucial factor in attracting and retaining top talent in the industry.
Julia Kermode, the founder of IWork, an influential advocacy group dedicated to supporting self-employed individuals, draws attention to the hindrances posed by rigid approaches to job creation. As the effects of the pandemic recede, she observes that many companies are reverting to traditional employment structures, failing to recognise the potential and value of flexible working arrangements. This regressive mindset inadvertently excludes numerous individuals from applying for jobs, including those with caregiving responsibilities, disabled individuals, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, part-time workers, and more. Kermode passionately asserts that it is high time for businesses to acknowledge the immense benefits of fostering a diverse workforce. She highlights the untapped potential of countless individuals who are eager to contribute to the economy but lack suitable opportunities due to the persistence of outdated corporate mindsets.
Despite the positive development of a nearly 25% decrease in unemployment rates within the construction sector compared to the previous year, there were still 54,000 individuals unemployed during the most recent three-month period. In stark contrast, the corresponding figure for the three months leading up to February 2021 stood at 70,000. Dominick Sandford, the managing director of Ironmongery Direct and Electrical Direct, expresses optimism about the declining unemployment trend, interpreting it as a sign of stability returning to the industry. He welcomes this positive trajectory and anticipates a summer filled with ample opportunities for the highly skilled workforce in the construction sector.
The industry grapples with persistent skills shortages, exemplified by the lowest number of self-employed workers in construction in the past 18 years at the beginning of 2021. The severity of this shortage has prompted contractors to explore alternative strategies to attract and retain talent. Helen Redfern, HR director of the Kier group, shared in an interview with Construction News last month that the company's successful increase of 20% in job applications can be partially attributed to the implementation of family-friendly policies. Notably, one such policy involved extending paid maternity leave to 26 weeks, demonstrating Kier's commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive work environment. These initiatives aim to address the skills gap and attract a diverse pool of qualified professionals to the construction industry.