Skills shortages: meeting the challenge

NHMF Contractor Forum Chair and Ian Williams’ Executive Director, Mike Turner, discusses how as a sector, we can meet the challenge of skills shortages by putting training and retaining at the top of the agenda


With reports that construction vacancies have hit an all-time high and as the battle to find skilled workers to deliver new build and refurbishment projects intensifies, the focus is now firmly on all of us to attract, train and retain the best people to ensure that much-needed future investment in our built environment is delivered. The construction sector has seen a 39% rise in the number of job vacancies, the second highest level of vacancies in the past 20 years, driven by an ageing workforce and a sector heavy reliance on migrant European labour.This severe skills gap is driving up wages and squeezing businesses that are already battling higher material costs. It is an ailing and unsustainable labour model.

Longstanding problem

While some of the blame for this current situation can be placed on Brexit and COVID, one of the key contributors is that as a sector, for years now, we haven't been appealing enough to attract new talent. An ageing workforce is slowly retiring with nobody to take its place. For some businesses, low contractor margins have directly resulted in a lack of available or willing investment for training apprentices or 'on the job' school leaver training schemes.

Despite construction (encompassing contracting, product manufacturing and professional services) being one of the largest sectors in the UK economy, contributing almost £90 billion and 10% of total UK employment, value is being removed from the supply chain at all levels. Training is seen as loss leader in terms of funding relative to costs. The practice of not having directly employed tradespeople on the payroll has led to a skills vacuum in organisations. Entire generations of in-house skills are being lost and the core outputs of their businesses - delivering plumbing, plastering, electrics, painting, bricklaying, carpentry - are no longer within their control.

Making construction attractive

Collectively, we need to make a career in the industry seem desirable. Tackling the skills shortages must start with changing perceptions. Sadly, we have a reputation for being an industry of middle-aged white men, and statistically, it isn't far off. Some demographics feel like the industry is not the place for them. But this is changing. Widening the talent pool for recruitment is just one of the many benefits of a diverse workplace and diversifying the workforce will help to stop limiting the kinds of people who typically enter the industry. Pushing back against the perceived idea that construction is a "boy's club" and challenging gender inequality in construction will make the industry more appealing to women, vastly increasing the number of people interested in a career in construction.

If you'd like to join the debate and continue this conversation, don't miss our workshop on Wednesday 26th January at the NHMF Conference: "Strategies to support & develop a more diverse workforce" with speakers Elle Robinson, Senior Consultant, Leadership & Talent Consultancy, Gatenby Sanderson and Cherene Whitfield, Equality & Diversity Specialist, Bristol City Council.

View timetable 

The Contractor Forum is working hard with our members to help make construction more attractive for a healthier and more sustainable sector for us all. If youâ'd like to join us, please visit and take advantage of our 10% discounted membership rate before December 24th

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