The construction industry in the Midlands needs to ‘think differently’ to meet the challenge of finding 10,000 new starters every year for the next five years to meet project demands.
That’s the view of Lorraine Gregory, the director of the Civil Engineer Contractors Association (CECA), which supports companies across the sector and provides a voice for the industry.
Civil engineering firms were already facing a skills and recruitment crisis before Covid-19 struck but the pandemic has seen it worsen meaning 50,000 new recruits will be needed between now and 2027 to deliver on projects earmarked for the Midlands.
Lorraine said an aging workforce – 23 per cent of employees are now over 55 compared with just 10 per cent in 1990 – made it vitally important that more people were attracted into the sector and, also, retained within it.
She said: “An ageing workforce in our sector is something that has long been warned about and with many using the pandemic as a moment to take retirement, it is starting to come home to roost.
“Despite many older workers taking retirement, the workforce in construction is still not getting any younger on average.
“The figures show a much higher percentage are now over 55 and the concern is that the cohort aged 25-54 is now weighted towards older end of the spectrum.
“The implications of this, is that we’d expect to lose greater numbers of workers as we move forwards and there is little evidence that they are being replaced by younger workers at anywhere near the same rate.
“It’s vitally important, therefore, that we think differently about how and where we recruit and what we do to keep them in the industry.
“Ongoing training – something CECA supports our members with – is great way to ensure skills are constantly improved and allow people to progress but we all recognise that we have to do more to get people into the sector in the first place.
“We are not the only industry that’s crying out for more workers so we have to differentiate ourselves from other sectors. Through CECA, we’ll be sending STEM ambassadors into the schools in the region to promote the vital work that civil engineering does and the incredible careers it can lead to.
“When speaking to individual businesses that get recruitment right it’s clear that this is not a short-term fix. Firms need to look at how they go about this and plan how they intend to ensure they have the skills for the future.”
Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd, which has offices across the UK including Birmingham, Solihull, Stowe and Manchester, has a Future Skills Programme, – which includes apprentices, graduates, trainees and placements – and currently just under 15 per cent of the business’s 700 employees are either on it or graduated from it.
Retention rates are high and, as a result, an average of 20 new entrants complete studies annually and become permanent members of the Group.
The firm is still not immune from the effects of the recruitment crunch but the commitment to bringing new people into the industry has stood Buckingham Group in good stead.
Recruitment Manager Matt Suckling said: “We are in a perfect recruitment storm when you look at Covid, Brexit, IR35 and the perpetual issue of an ageing workforce.
“Tristan Tregartha, Future Skills Manager, began our Future Skills Programme five years ago and it has been a real success story for the business, one that helps us grow our own talent and provides new entrants with a clear career development path.
“There is not a quick fix and it comes down to more than the way you recruit. We are in a ‘word of mouth’ industry so you have to make sure that your staff, your supply chain and anyone else who comes into contact with you are all talking about you in a positive way.”
Meanwhile, Highway Traffic Management (HTM) in Birmingham, is launching a bid to attract 40 women into the industry.
Marcus Casey, Business Director at HTM, said: “We are growing considerably and as with many industries at the moment, there’s a skills shortage.
“We have over half the population who may not be thinking about traffic management as a career path for them, simply because the industry has historically had the reputation of being a hands-on role which therefore tends to attract more men. But there’s more to it than people think with a lot of problem solving involved, attention to detail and customer communication required too.
“By challenging the status quo and showing that this type of work can be completed by both men and women, we will be creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, something we believe is vitally important to the industry as a whole.
“We already have female operatives working within HTM, so we have been engaging with them to get their input and see what more we can be doing to encourage more women into the industry.”