How can construction attract a younger workforce?

Construction is big business in the UK – about 8% of the economy, and there’s no sign of slowing down.

The sector will add 67,000 new jobs between 2016-2024. That’s great news after 100,000 jobs were lost post-recession, but there’s a huge elephant in the room: where will these new workers come from?

The workforce is getting older; a fifth of current workers are retiring in the next decade. Brexit remains a huge threat, especially when 82% of construction employers have staff from the EU.

So an obvious solution is to recruit more young people. But that won’t happen until they see construction as an attractive career. Look at enrolment for first year construction trainees. The number who started training in 2016 is almost a third of what it was in 2005. How can the industry become more appealing to the younger generation?

Make technology the focus

Start with the fact that young people are digital natives. Since technology has shaped their entire lives, it’s no surprise that many expect to enter tech-related careers. That’s why it’s so concerning that few young people know that technology is at the heart of construction.

We offer free career sessions for secondary schools and highlight in-demand jobs.

When we mention construction to students, most describe it as hard hats, back-breaking work, and long hours on site. That’s not attractive for “Generation Z” (people born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s), especially when more than half want to start their own business. They don’t picture themselves in manual labour. But tools like 3D printing, drone site surveying, and even brick-laying robots are completely changing the nature of construction jobs.

Like so many other industries, technology is replacing many manual tasks and increasing the need for digital and technology roles. Employers need to emphasise these tech-based opportunities in their recruitment and marketing efforts.

Re-think training

Tech-based training is another way that employers can modernise construction’s image. CITB found that using virtual reality and other kinds of immersive learning are highly attractive to young people. 

That kind of training is an excellent way to marry the realities of the work with the digital arena that young people expect. It will require a major shift in the way most employers approach training. Just over half of construction employers provide any kind of training to their existing employees, and the bulk of that is health & safety or induction training. That means there’s a huge opportunity for employers to upskill their workforce and attract younger people, simply by exploring new ways of tech-based training.

It’s not easy when so many people in the industry are self-employed or in microbusinesses. However, innovative approaches to improving skills with technology can only improve recruitment and productivity.

Create an obvious route for career progression

A final way to make construction more attractive to young people is to show them career possibilities in the industry.

‘Generation Z’ is worried about getting stuck in a job with no development opportunities, so it’s up to employers to demonstrate just how far someone can go in construction.

Young people need to understand it extends far beyond manual labour. In fact, our recent research shows that the fastest growing job in construction is production manager and director. Yet, the same research shows that 41% of employers are struggling to find the senior leaders and managers they need.

That’s why Crest Nicholson, a FTSE 250 property developer, created its own training initiative to tackle skills gaps.

Almost one in five employees in the company are now on formal learning and development plans, and nearly 90% of all staff have regular career reviews with their managers. Not only has it reduced staff turnover, the award-winning programme has attracted more female employees to the firm. Staff appreciate knowing exactly what they need to do to reach the next level in their careers.

Going forward

If employers want to make construction more attractive to young people, they will need to change the lingering stereotypes about the industry.

This will involve greater collaboration with not just fellow employers, but government and training providers too. It’s never been more important to get this right – especially in the uncertainty of Brexit.

With 92% of construction employers struggling with recruitment, and with the Budget offering more funding for housing infrastructure, the construction industry needs talented people to meet demand for years to come.


Most statistics in this article come from a new City & Guilds Group report:
Constructing the future: How the skills needed for success in the workplace are changing.”