Why are there skill shortages in the UK Construction industry?

The UK has been experiencing a construction skill shortage since the recession and now, according to City and Guilds, 1 in 20 construction companies report their tradespeople do not have the range and level of skills needed. However, UK unemployment is at the lowest it has ever been since 1974, so why is the country’s construction industry lacking the skills it so desperately needs?

The construction industry is of vital importance to the UK as the fifth largest employer and the fourth largest sector by turnover. So, it would be expected that an industry that accounts for 8% of GDP would have the skills it needs.

Why are we lacking the skills we need?

There are several challenges currently affecting the construction industry and contributing to skill shortages. Huge technological advances, skilled workers retiring and not being replaced and (dare we utter it) Brexit are being cited as the main factors that are playing a part in the skill shortage.

Industry 4.0


We are now close to the next big industrial revolution – Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is the name given to the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes the cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

So, just as the industrial revolutions before it, it will improve the way we work and create exciting new opportunities and ways of doing things. But that is only if companies embrace the revolution and ensure their workforce is upskilled in line with current and future needs. Many construction companies are embracing the next revolution already and using new technologies and sharing intelligence via the cloud. Other companies just need to make sure they aren’t left behind.

New talent to fill the gaps


Over the next 10 years, 500,000 people are expected to retire from the construction industry. It is predicted that to keep up with the huge decline in the workforce, as well as the UK’s housing and infrastructure demands, that around 400,000 people need to be hired every year until 2021.

Uncertainty over Brexit


The true impact of Brexit won’t be known until the UK leaves the European Union. However, droves of European workers have already been leaving the country due to uncertainty surrounding Brexit. In data from Indeed, it was found that the number of EU-based workers looking for British construction jobs has fallen by 44% since 2015. And it is only expected to get worse post Brexit – there are claims that the construction industry could lose up to a fifth of the workforce after Brexit further increasing the need for more home-grown talent.

What should be done to bridge the gap?

While around 23,000 people started a Construction, Planning and Built Environment apprenticeship in 2017/18, it doesn’t come close to the number of people enrolling on other subjects, the highest being Business and Administration with 111,000 apprentices.

Apprenticeship providers need to recognise that more needs to be done to attract more individuals to study a Construction apprenticeship and that the training needs to align with current and future industry needs.

Development schemes
Development schemes are a great way to attract more people to construction and upskill those already in the industry. However, the schemes need to be relevant and include real-life construction experiences.

Industry and training collaboration
Both industry and training providers need to collaborate to understand what the other requires. Without open and honest communication, training companies won’t recognise the needs of industry and industry won’t be provided with qualified workers who have the right skills.

Tax relief for the self-employed
The construction industry is made up of a mixture of specialised companies and the self-employed. While construction companies can afford to upskill and train their staff, the self-employed lack the financial means to ensure they are constantly upskilled in line with industry needs.

The self-employed should be incentivised to pursue learning by receiving tax relief on the associated costs.

As a specialist construction staffing company, we understand the current needs of the industry and recognise what needs to be done in the short term and long term to ensure the skill shortage doesn’t impact the companies we work with. If you want to find out more about our solutions, get in touch with our dedicated team.