Is moving towards a more diverse and inclusive culture the solution to the construction industry’s skills shortage?

Is moving towards a more diverse and inclusive culture the solution to the construction industry’s skills shortage?

Improvement of diversity and inclusion within the UK construction industry is a hot topic at the moment (and rightly so). As is the highly publicised skills shortage in the industry. Is enough being done in one to help the other?


The impending skill shortage

The skill shortage is being felt at all levels of the industry. It has been claimed that 1 in 5 of all vacancies in the industry are persistent and hard to fill.1 We’re starting to see this in our day to day. Every day, I hear one of the consultants say they need to source an estimator, which is quickly followed by chants of ‘good luck’ – they are apparently like gold dust!  Our clients are finding it harder to recruit new hires with the skills, qualifications and experience they require. How has this come about?


  1. There is an ageing workforce. With 22% of the workforce over 50 and 15% in their 60s, the rate of retirement looks set to increase
  2. The rate of young people entering the industry is poor. The appeal of construction as a career is low in young people. The industry is missing out to competing sectors where work is deemed to be more stable and the benefits more competitive.1


So the rate of the people leaving the industry is set to increase while the number entering to replace them is reducing? The skills shortage is a no-brainer really.

We must also not forget about Brexit. Leaving the single market could mean that the almost 200,000 EU workers currently in the industry might be lost.2


How is diversity and inclusion being improved?

Our communities are becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive; as such, the UK workforce is more diverse than ever. If the construction industry were to not widen its thinking, employers would significantly reduce their potential talent pool and strengthen the skills shortage further.

By actively setting out to recruit from the whole community, companies can help address the skill shortage. Being recruitment consultants, we are on the forefront of helping our clients implement new recruitment initiatives to improve diversity in their workforces. And, positively, more and more is being done by the key industry players to encourage diverse and inclusive cultures.

Firstly, leading industry bodies are setting out to lead from the front:

  • RICS held a Diversity and Inclusion conference in June. Hundreds of delegates attended to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the industry and to take key learnings back to their organisations – watch the highlights here


  • The CIOB appointed a new female president – Rebecca Thompson – in June, the second in its history. Rebecca used her introductory address to promote diversity and inclusion:


‘At the heart of diversity is inclusion’, she said. ‘It’s an attitude of “How can I make the work environment more conducive to people doing a good job, regardless of their gender, ethnic background, or any disability”… …An inclusive mindset will also attract more young people to enter the sector,’ she argued, which is essential to addressing the current skills shortages in construction.3


  • The RAEng has had a Diversity Programme in place since 2011 to help stimulate action within the Engineering profession. It runs industry-led action groups to develop and deliver freely available resources. Helping in areas such as inclusive recruitment, inclusive cultures and measurement.4


Secondly, the need for dynamically skilled workforces to work on the predicted £500 billion infrastructure pipeline in the UK has been a key driver for action. Demanding Main Contractors to review their recruitment practices and to open up their cultures to combat the skills shortage. Skanska, for one, has set about to be ‘recognised as a leader in diversity’, embracing the differences in people to help develop winning teams. Main Contractors have also formed alliances with each other through networks like ‘#Buildingequality’ and ‘Interengineering’.

Skills shortage

#BuildingEquality at Pride in London

 What other benefits does being Diverse and Inclusive hold?

By fully embracing people of all backgrounds including those from multi-cultural heritages, nationality, disability, gender, sexual orientation or ex-military backgrounds, companies will be able to broaden their scope and vision by taking advantage of a range of mindset’s and, in turn, become more innovative. Diversity is thought to bring a new richness to industries. Injecting new thinking that will benefit all of us in the future.


‘A measurable and sustainable difference’

Moving towards a diverse and inclusive culture is definitely part of the solution to solving the skills shortage – put simply it will widen the potential talent pool. It also offers much more –  it opens the field up to ‘out of the box’ thinking, makes the industry more attractive for young people to pursue construction careers (looking to solve the skills shortage, again) and aligns with the way our communities are changing.

So is enough being done? Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Chair of the Diversity Committee and Engineering Diversity Concordat Group states: ‘We still have a long way to go but I do feel that at last, we are beginning to make a measurable and sustainable difference.’4

Industry leaders will always say more can be done, and in truth, that is correct. But, industry-wide change is afoot, and we’ll all reap the benefits.