The US is not the only country dealing with an ongoing skilled craft worker shortage. An article written by Johnathan Bulmer, the Managing Director of Cleveland Containers titled “Are Interns the Key to Improving the skills Gap in the Construction Sector?” and published in Construction Global, defines the scope of the issue in the UK. The article poses that the UK expand its internship programs as one way to give students an early “hands on” experience within the construction industry and to recruit younger candidates to fill the craft jobs in the future.
Bulmer says that,
“One of the main issues is that many construction workers are now retiring, and to make up for this shortfall, we need an influx of new employees. The problem is, that one fifth of all vacancies within the construction industry are hard to fill because employees can’t find staff with the right qualifications or skills.”
That sounds like many of the US industry experts who are wrestling with the same problem: how to recruit new younger people into the construction industry.
The article explains that 10% of the workforce in the UK, about 2.93 million people are employed in the construction industry, but that worker shortages caused skilled worker retirements and the lack of younger workers entering the industry is forcing employers to look for new solutions. One issue in the recruiting is that the image of construction as an “outdoor and dirty business” is a deterrent for teens looking for a career path. (That sounds familiar.) Bulmer proposes that the industry should focus on hiring interns to begin to offset the labor shortages in the UK.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t a route that we as an industry, have been taking. Only 1% of employers have ever considered hiring an apprentice or an inexperienced member of staff, and for those who did, it was highly unlikely that there was a guaranteed job available at the end of the project.” he says.
One change that is underway in the industry that might help is the move to digitalization of many of the tasks needed to design and build the buildings of tomorrow. Bulmer believes that augmented reality (AR), the use of drones, and the widespread use of BIM (Building Information Modeling) is attractive to younger candidates. Unfortunately, he says that current employers will have to understand the new technologies themselves before they will be willing to recruit new candidates by offering those technologies. And construction is slow to adopt new technologies.
Bulmer believes that “smart” construction companies can accomplish the integration of new technologies and the recruitment of new, younger employees into the workforce if they have an active internship program. Many of the younger candidates already have both the technical skills and interest to teach the existing employers how to “leap frog” their competition in the new technologies.
As Bulmer and many experts are telling us, “a combination of academic training and real-world learning will produce the best results.”
Internships will not totally solve the skilled craft labor shortage, but it is another tool for the recruiting toolkit that companies and leadership should consider. Who knows, owners might start to require internship programs from companies who are bidding their new projects.