Angela Carney, managing director at Carney Consultancy and John Sayers, managing director at Hodgson Sayers – whose commitment to the development of its people saw the company awarded British Chamber of Commerce Company of the Year – comment on the skills gap in the construction sector.

Angela Carney

Over the past two decades we have seen a steady decline in the number of candidates who are prepared to pick up the tools

There are many reasons for the shortage, including a lack of diversity, an ageing workforce and not enough young people inspired by careers in skilled trades.

In March 2021, the Construction Leadership Council produced its first sector-wide skills plan for construction and the built environment and, as we enter 2023, the outlook is more positive but global challenges such as inflation are starting to arise.

Changing the image of the sector and increasing diversity is, for me, the absolute key.

In my opinion, our sector must realise that young people are often influenced by their caregivers or parents. So, when we talk about changing the image of the industry, we need to change it for everybody, not just for the young people. Especially as there are older people aged 24-plus coming into the industry as well, we need perception change across the board.

The younger generation may have more than two or three careers in their lifetime, so if we want to attract people not just at 16 to 18, we need to change the image of the sector.

We also need to ensure schools and colleges can see the opportunities the trades present to young people, as they are a recruitment source waiting to be tapped into.

There are numerous managing directors within the trades, such as John Sayers, who started as apprentices working their way to the top and we need to highlight this more.

John Sayers

We are excited for the future of the sector and for our business. We know we face recruitment challenges but our optimism is borne out of the knowledge that our industry offers truly fantastic, long-term careers for young people.

Hodgson Sayers has always grown its own apprentices but put this programme on hold due to the pandemic. We have now just introduced two new young people to our trades teams and you can feel the lift that it has given the whole business. Young people are our lifeblood and bring with them an enthusiasm, energy, curiosity and willingness to learn that is infectious.

We are excited for all our apprentices, as we know the pathways are there for them to climb the ladder not just within their trade but in management and leadership roles, should they have that desire. Then, of course, there has been the introduction of technology into our sector. This has meant our teams have had to learn and adjust to new ways of working but long term this will bring further career opportunities.

While the industry, as a whole, needs to do more to position itself as modern and forward looking, it is also important individual companies do as much as they can to raise their profiles and position themselves as employers of choice. There are simple but effective ways to do this. Does your website just focus on talking to potential customers about products and services? Or, does it look at careers, culture, values and community engagement – all ‘soft’ issues but very important if you are looking to attract and retain talent. Do you highlight your apprentices on your social channels and on video, giving them a voice and showcasing them to other young people looking at career options? Do you engage in a meaningful way with schools and colleges?

The future is bright and it is up to all of us in the sector to shine a light on the wonderful career options that are just waiting for our young people to take up.