Solving skill-gaps with marketing

After the election results were announced, FTSE 350 construction and material index rose by 2.2% as shares in house builders sector made big jumps. In fact, house-building is one of the seven sectors which raised the FTSE 100 index last week.

It is apparent that the sector is optimistic of its future, despite signs of uncertainty in Europe and slowdown in world economy. And why not? The UK construction industry, which accounts for about 7% of GDP and worth £100 billion-plus a year, expects major infrastructural projects and large house building activities in coming years.

This is good news for employment in our sector, as experts predict that more than 182,000 construction jobs are set to be created in the next four years.

How does this contrast the situation now? Just a few years back, during the downturn, the industry faced a devastating effect with 400,000 job losses and one of the highest redundancy rates of any sector.

The critical question in the mind is whether the industry is ready to experience this ride? Perhaps not, as there is a looming skill shortages in the sector. In 2013/14 the number of people who completed a construction apprenticeship was 8,030, which is nearly half the numbers of apprenticeships in 2008/09, at a time when the industry needs 45,000 new entrants every year just to stand still.

The problem of insufficient skills looks more alarming as the industry adopts more and more new technologies (such as building information modelling) and commits itself to the greener and sustainable construction programmes.

The structure and culture of the industry is also to blame for this shortage. Nearly four in 10 of the two million work force are self-employed – hence, uncertainty over the workload, a common trend of this industry, has produced a situation wherein training of local people has got away with reliance on migrant labour.

The UK Government has recently put huge emphasis on apprentices but most of the expansion has happened in areas such as retail and care work. Construction sector is lagging behind in attracting young talents. Only about 10% of those working in the industry are aged between 19 and 24.

There are many reasons for this crisis. UCATT argues that the fragmentation of the construction industry is failing apprenticeships. The reduction of directly employed workers, more subcontracting and greater use of agencies, has left no room for apprentices to train.

Moving forward with marketing

We can’t be left behind with this problem – rather we need to go back to the drawing board and think again.

One of the biggest barriers for the industry is the “image” itself. The common perceptions of the industry are that of “cowboy”, “hard hats”, “male oriented”, while I doubt how much the industry has piggybacked its recent successes like the Olympic sites and the Shard.

Although Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) has done good work in improving the image of the sector, more work is required to help improve the brand of “construction”.

Why is it that only the hi-viz jackets or hard hats represent the image of the sector, when there are so many varied roles that use the latest technologies and gadgets.

Pigeon-holing the sector will not help attract the best of the talents. We have to excite young people with varied opportunities in construction, from traditional crafts, to management, from project management to computer based modelling. Unless, the diversity of the roles is highlighted, the industry won’t be able to raise aspirations and attract talent.

Marketing can play a major role in revamping the industry image – as sustained marketing activities would be able to change the perception from traditional to a modern and “cool” image. But we need greater commitment and buy-in from industry leaders in securing the step change that is needed to help young people secure worthwhile employment in construction.

Improving the brand image of the sector is critical to lay the foundations for a sustainable and modern industry and attract young talents especially young women. Until then, like many other young people, my young daughter will continue to say “no” to a career in construction.  


Debansu Das, Marketing Director, SESCO, CIMCIG committee member