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Author: Ross Sturley – CIMCIG Committee Member (@rosssturley)

It’s that time in the economic cycle when UK construction starts to worry about its skills base. 

Anyone as old as me will remember that as the economy improves, and growth returns to the sector, the industry will panic that it does not have the workers to build all the stuff people want – hence the skills shortage.

It’s true. When we went into recession, companies cut back on staff and employment in the industry fell from 2.6 million to around 2.2 million. Newsletter_CIMCIG_SkillsShortage_Mar-15

Much of the fall was in skilled labour. Everyone who lost their job still needed to make a living, so they headed off to other countries, or other professions, where more opportunities were available.  At the same time, people stopped thinking training to be a bricklayer was a good idea and we all halted our graduate recruitment programmes.

We knew at the time that it would result in a skills shortage and, of course, it has. 

The Construction Products Association’s latest trade survey suggests ongoing difficulties in recruiting skilled on-site trades are also likely to mean costs will still be subject to upward pressure. According to the survey, 70% of large contractors reported difficulties in recruiting bricklayers in Q4, up from 41% in Q3.

Stephen Ratcliffe of the UK Contractors Group added that his members are now “focusing their activities on attracting new people into construction”. You can see why, but it’s too late of course. They should have done that before it was an issue, or kept doing it through the pain.

The marketing community are in the same boat. At an excellent recent CIMCIG round table discussion, one of the main themes was how hard it currently is to recruit people. One participant admitted to having “the Devil’s own job recruiting product managers”.

It’s hard to find people with the requisite experience and construction knowledge who are available. The good ones are in work, of course. Moreover, the legacy of the early recession years is that there are very few people with two to three years’ experience who are looking for a new challenge.

And it’s not just marketing. Sales staff are notoriously difficult to recruit and, as a result, salaries are reported to be increasing.

This is not an easy problem to solve. CIMCIG will try to do its part, but until the situation improves, it will be very important to retain and develop your existing teams. 

Now is the time, when the headhunters are calling, to make sure they all feel loved and wanted and that you have a personal development plan in place for them all. If you can’t acquire the new skills you need in the recruitment market, you need to train up your current team. 

Time to put some cash back into the training budget!

Has your company been impacted by the skills shortage? What are you doing to combat it? Get in touch with your views using the share buttons below.

Ross Sturley is principal at Chart Lane, a strategic communications company specialising in construction, property and regeneration, and a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group.

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