by   |    |   3 minutes  |  in Construction and Contracting, Engineering and Infrastructure

The engineering, construction and infrastructure industry accounts for over six percent of the world’s largest economies from a GDP perspective. So why are we not attracting the right people into the industry?

There is a major skills shortage across all functions of the business, not just the tradesman required on the construction sites but also the professional side of the industry.

The industry is facing a number of challenges:

  • 25 percent of the UK workforce is over 50 years old, with 15 percent over 60
  • Pay is lower than other sectors
  • Work is perceived to be less secure
  • Engineering degrees are not seen as desirable by many young people
  • The industry does not have a good image from a young person’s viewpoint
  • Most employers are reluctant to take on and train staff so this is not attractive to potential employees

In short, people think it is a dirty industry full of low paid workers who drive around in vans.

Something needs to change!

If you take a different viewpoint, it should be seen as a very exciting industry to work in:

  • The industry builds very impressive assets – airports, dams, high speed railways, tunnels under the ocean, sports stadiums, impressive sky scrapers, oil refineries, factories – which offer huge challenges. The list is endless.
  • What could be more rewarding than seeing one of these assets being completed?
  • The technology challenges and complexity would challenge the abilities of any young person (IOT, BIM, Digital Cities, 3D Printing …)

So how do we solve this?

Here are some ideas:

  • Prevalent in the industry: aggressive adversarial nature, less professional, aggressive builder culture, Old Boys’ network culture. All this needs to change.
  • Adopt new technology and become more integrated – invest in a proper integrated BIM strategy, stop running your businesses in Excel, adopt professional project planning, etc.
  • Invest in people as your primary asset (e.g. proper Graduate Training Schemes)
    – Working Conditions – flexibility conditions, working from home, trust , fun culture, open, collaborative
    – Pay, conditions and incentives (e.g. bonuses based on successful project delivery etc.)
  • Long term planning and industry alliances and JVs – allow business to plan and invest in the long term

If we can do this then the industry can move forward and the skills shortage will decline as people are attracted to work in the industry.

Part of the skills shortage is actually caused by the above issues – the industry has not attracted the best people and is slow to adopt new technology and modern integrated business processes and systems.

For example, automated workforce planning and allocation solutions are rarely used. It’s usually done in a person’s head or in Excel.

Poor planning and very reactive firefighting culture leads to labor inefficiency. This means that labor efficiency is lower than it should be across all functions of the business

What’s a starting point?

Well, I was part of a Transport Industry panel in London last week at the Construction News Summit 2015. Part of our discussion was about these issues. The UK transport Industry was well represented on my panel with senior executives from HS2 (High Speed Rail 2), Network Rail and London Underground all present.

There was a clear and consistent message from this group and from all the other industry segments who attended the summit that the skills shortage was the number one concern, particularly when there are so many very large infrastructure projects being planned in parallel over the next ten years.

Getting this on everyone’s agenda for change is a good place to start.

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