Is it time for a collective effort to improve the image of construction and bolster recruitment to the sector?

In recent weeks we have seen a call to collaborate and modernise the construction industry. The release of the Farmer Report, Modernise or Die has stimulated a lot of discussion amongst industry members. Indeed Construction News write that the “Farmer Review does not make comfortable reading.”

The report, commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), reviews the UK Construction Model. The report presents a model that has given rise to underinvestment in training, innovation and productivity. It says ‘the industry needs to modernise itself to become a more compelling proposition for prospective new entrants or face a future of decline and marginalisation.” Andrew Wolstenholme of the CLC says the report shows that “workforce attrition, exacerbated by an ageing workforce, means that there is now a fundamental imperative for change.”

At the recent CIMIG Chairman’s debate, Mark Farmer joined a panel of industry experts to discuss “Delivering a better Image of Construction”. The other panel members were Diana Montgomery, Chief Executive of the CPA, Isabel Martinson, Executive Chairman of the Considerate Constructors Scheme and Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

A common thread through the debate was the need to attract and retain skilled workers within the sector. The skills crisis is a significant challenge for the sector, with an ageing workforce and youngsters choosing other career options. The economic and political uncertainty has also hampered recruitment. Competitive Advantage recently wrote on how Brexit could further fuel the construction skills crisis.

Recently industry news reported that the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low that it is un-measurable, with just 11% of construction employees being women. To add to this the gender pay gap, for the construction sector, is the lowest on record. So the industry is failing to attract women. Another worrying factor is the lack of engagement from career advisers and parents, with construction not seen as a viable career path. Yet there are a number of inspiring initiatives to help raise the profile of construction as a career, such as a recent initiative to take BIM into the classroom. Yet Construction News recently reported that the construction skills challenge will require change throughout the industry warning that the “crux of our skills challenges is that none of these fantastic initiatives are joined up.” To add to this, apprenticeship funding is also under review, with Government asking Paul Morrell to answer: is a separate levy and grant system for construction apprenticeships is warranted?

At the CIMCIG Chairman’s debate there was a lot of discussion on how the image of construction is hindering recruitment. And following the debate Anna Hern of Ridgemount PR posted on LinkedIn, saying now is the time to rebrand construction.  The Farmer Report certainly challenges the construction sector to do things differently – to reduce the reliance on building in the same way that we have done for decades. Diane Montgomery of the CPA stated that “Construction is changing and a real opportunity is presenting itself. And the skills we will need are changing.”

Mike Lomax. CIMCIG Chairman summarised the debate by saying: “The image of construction has never been so important. The industry needs people and our image is linked to our success in the future.” Going on to say “We need to have pride and create that pride.”

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