Can offsite construction help to tackle skills shortages? Chris Jarman, Director of the Construction Talent Retention Scheme and Talentview Construction, offers some compelling reasons how it can.
In the face of crippling skills shortages which are now impacting on housing completion rates and the levels of activity onsite, unsurprisingly a lot of scrutiny is now turning onto the efficiency and productivity opportunities presented by offsite construction.
Construction is a varied sector, employing about three million people and offering multiple career paths. Even without the growth of ‘green jobs’, it is estimated by the CITB that the industry needs to recruit more than 217,000 new workers between now and 2025 to support its current activity, including the development of exciting new careers in digitalisation and sustainability. This demand is only likely to accelerate, as the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate an estimated 500,000 UK-born workers are likely to leave the sector in the next 10 years as they come to retirement age.
Clearly, we are not going to have the labour options we’ve enjoyed in the past. And as everyone knows, necessity is the mother of invention. We will have no choice but to look again at the way we build. But could the shift to offsite help provide a solution to the skills shortages? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In the first place, we need to attract new entrants into the industry and ensure they’re coming in with the right mix of both construction and manufacturing skills and experience.
Research that we carried out this autumn found that, despite record numbers of job vacancies, young people are finding it harder than ever to identify the right roles for their abilities and interests. We questioned almost 2,000 young workers and found that only 14% are very confident of finding suitable career opportunities this year, and nearly half believe it’s now harder to find jobs compared to pre-pandemic. When added to the figures above highlighting the looming skills challenges facing the construction sector, it’s clear that something needs to change. The talent is out there, but not enough people are considering construction as a serious career choice.
Part of the problem is that, whether the sector likes to admit it or not, we have not done enough to promote the attractions of the sector. We are not the only industry with a skills shortage, and we are up against many other sectors in the war for talent.
However, shifting to offsite could help to tackle part of the issue. As we know, the sector requires more digitally and manufacturing based skillsets compared to traditional methods, which in turn means employers can potentially recruit from a much larger pool of talent than they have had access to in the past.
Many of the roles that the offsite sector is seeking now will be in even greater demand in the future as more employers identify the need for wider technological and manufacturing competencies. It’s highly likely that we’ll see steadily rising demand for continuous improvement leads, agile developers and specialists in areas like 3D printing, automation, LEAN and Six Sigma, along with a broader requirement for world-class manufacturing talent. In BIM alone, Go Construct predict there will be over 200,000 new jobs created within the next five years. Without attracting people from other sectors or encouraging more young people into construction, many firms will struggle to remain productive.
Moving towards more modern methods of construction may help to widen the pool of talent, but employers must also focus on promoting the array of opportunities that are on offer more effectively. If these roles are made more visible, it’s likely that a wider range of young people will at least consider construction as their industry of choice. Solving other issues, like boosting the digital supply chain and modernising training programmes, will also help to close the skills gap. But essentially, construction needs to find a way to attract the right talent. Harnessing the potential that offsite holds is at least a step in the right direction.
From there, a constant challenge facing employers has been identifying young people seeking a career in the sector. But this is where platforms like Talentview Construction (TVC) step in. TVC is a new, free-to-use governmentbacked initiative designed to make it easier for those searching for a career in construction and the built environment to join the sector and take advantage of the wide array of opportunities, from practical jobs through to digital and project management roles.
Mark Reynolds, Group CEO of Mace Group and the Construction Leadership Council’s lead on skills, says: “More than ever, the industry needs a strong pipeline of talent. Talentview Construction is a window on the industry for all those wishing to enter construction as new entrants and career changers. We must make it easier for people to join our sector to support growth and to improve our levels of diversity – but to do so everyone needs to do more to recruit openly and make flexible opportunities accessible through schemes like this.
“This is exactly what so many businesses have been crying out for, helping them tackle skills shortages and gear up for future growth. Initiatives such as Talentview Construction – part of the Construction Talent Retention Scheme – have the potential to dramatically improve our industry, but we all need to get behind it if it is to be a success.” It’s clear that the construction industry needs to source talent, not just for now, but also for the future shift to more offsite model adoption. Interestingly, data from the Construction Talent.
Acquisition Forum, a group of the UK’s leading construction employers, found that almost every organisation surveyed was facing the same shared challenges, whether that was sourcing experienced talent, or attracting new people to the industry. Equally, that suggests that working together and collectively supporting talent initiatives could benefit the entire construction sector.
Talentview is the newest offering from the Construction Talent Retention Scheme (CTRS) which was established by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Construction Leadership Council last summer. Together with complementary sites like CITB’s Go Construct, TVC and CTRS help to create a ‘one stop shop’ sector talent hub for the attraction, development and retention of people and skills within construction and the built environment, as part of the Government’s broader support to business on skills.