Older workers crucial to curbing construction industry skills gap – new report

Posted On: 
9th December 2015

The construction industry’s skills gap could be filled by older workers but employers are failing to realise their potential, a new report has found. 

The research by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)
‘Exploring the impact of the ageing population on the workforce and built environment’analysed the effect of the UK’s ageing population on the construction industry and outlined how the sector could adapt to meet some of the challenges.

Surveying nearly 1,000 of its members, the organisation found that despite legislative changes to improve recognition of the ageing population and combat workplace discrimination, awareness of the issues had declined compared to a previous study.

The ageing population has a direct effect on the workforce and available skill sets in the wider economy. In the UK, the skills shortage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical (STEM) careers is well documented.

The report finds a similar situation exists in the construction industry, which is heavily reliant on older workers and struggles to attract and retain younger recruits. Now, with 19% of the construction workforce set to retire in the next 5-10 years, the question for the industry is how to respond to the skills shortage, and prevent it from deepening.

When asked to comment on the report, Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “Apprenticeships will deliver the high skilled workers Britain needs to build a strong and prosperous future. 

“As part of our commitment to delivering 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, we have been working with leading employers in the construction industry to design new apprenticeships for roles such as construction site manager and quantity surveyor."

Speaking on the report’s findings Bridget Bartlett, Deputy Chief Executive of the CIOB said: “The findings from this report indicate that the impact of the ageing population and the role of the ageing workforce have slipped down the agenda.

“However, if construction is to meet the skills crisis it faces and fill the 224,000 vacancies needed by 2019, employers should look to take additional steps to overcome the skills shortages they incur by reaching out to older workers.

“There is a huge opportunity to showcase to both young and old members of the workforce that construction isn’t all hard hats and hi-vis and that off-site opportunities are aplenty. We demand technical skills as much as manual skills.

“Employers must also recognise the skills of their existing workers and put in measures such as flexible working, career reviews or even retirement planning to encourage longer working lives.

“As our own research tells us, skills shortages in construction are compounded by those entering the industry not being suitably qualified for the position.

“We should take this opportunity to use older workers to tap into their skills and knowledge and ensure they are passed onto the next generation.”

With 19% of the construction workforce set to retire in the next five to ten years, the report suggested that employers must overcome stereotypes and repurpose, where necessary, job descriptions to attract and retain older workers.

However, the CIOB is also clear that this should not be considered a substitute for investing in training, and should work hand-in-hand to help alleviate the skills crisis.