Education and Bridging the Construction Industry Skills Gap

In light of Laing O’Rourke’s recently published ten-point plan to overcome the UK’s current construction and infrastructure skills gap, we wanted to delve into how education could be the answer to healing the industry’s current skill shortage woes.

The current skills shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry today, as the sector continues to struggle in meeting the demand for needed skilled professionals. With many immense infrastructure projects being given the green light by government this year (including Hinkley Point C and Heathrow Airport expansions to name a few), the UK continues to set its sights on advancing its built environment. However, where will the technical skills needed to implement these schemes be drawn from?

In line with the UK’s plans to improve swathes of its outdated infrastructure over coming years, it is predicted that an additional 250,000 construction workers will be required by 2020 [1]. Needless to say, something must be done to tackle this pressing matter.

In response to this looming skills shortage, Laing O’Rourke recently published their ten-point plan in order to analyse the fundamental problems underpinning the severe skills gap, and from this, they proposed their solutions for bridging this detrimental gap. The key solution which we believe should be taken out of Laing O’Rourke’s plan for the future is based on the emphasis on the need for education;

It is deemed as necessary to “educate people about the positive reality of a career in modern day construction and engineering” [2].

From implementing GCSE and A-Level curriculum improvements, to refining government apprenticeship schemes, let’s look a little further into some of the education-centred solutions which have been put forward.

Introduce GCSE’s and A-Level’s in Design, Engineer and Construct (DEC)

Laing O’Rourke specified that focusing on evolving GCSE and A-Level qualifications in Design, Engineer and Construct (DEC) will dramatically boost interest and encourage a new wave of professional talent in the construction sector through targeting schools, colleges, students, parents and higher education institutions.

While DEC is currently taught within the school curriculum, its reach is largely limited. Out of 3,401 state funded schools throughout the UK, a mere 42 schools offer DEC as part of their standard curriculum. Despite the current curriculum being delivered at levels one, two and three, with levels two and three equivalent to GCSE’s and A-Levels, as well as possessing UCAS point eligibility, DEC qualifications remain to be largely unrecognised by universities.

It is hoped that an adapted, construction-centred curriculum will provide students with important skillsets such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), as well as how to design, specify and deliver sustainable building projects and most importantly, generally enliven perceptions of a stereotyped industry.

As we mentioned previously, it is tremendously important for our society to possess technical skills in order to expand and implement UK infrastructure projects. It seems as though the improvement of STEM education is the best way to tackle the severe skills shortage from the bottom up. As Laing O’Rourke highlight, pushing DEC into mainstream education is an enormously necessary step and perhaps the best way to tackle the skills gap head on.

Russel Group Degree Accessibility

Another education-centred issue which the ten-point plan emphasised is the need for Russel Group universities to support part-time degree apprenticeships. These schemes enable students to learn whilst they earn and eventually lead to professional vocational status. It is believed that rolling a scheme out to target UK universities would open up the amount of routes that there are into the industry. Moreover, targeting Russel Group universities would work towards encouraging a high calibre of students into fields such as quantity surveying and engineering, which can often have negative stereotypical reputations due to their vocational status.

Re-training and Apprenticeships

An area which could encourage more individuals into the construction industry is through looking closely at the apprenticeship process and ensuring re-training is made possible for individuals looking to pursue new career paths. As the Laing O’Rourke report suggests, there is a vast pool of applicants seeking re-training, yet taking the route into construction is currently extremely difficult and unclear. Perhaps if this process was made simpler, those hoping to make a career change would consider training in a construction-centred trade.

Education, education, education!

It seems as though the fundamental method of bridging the construction skills gap is through, you guessed it… education! In particular, Laing O’Rourke’s proposition that Design, Engineer and Construct (DEC) should be made part of the standard UK curriculum seems to have huge potential with regard to curbing the severe skills shortage.

Holding the potential to change negative perceptions of the industry which often turns potential talent away, and through providing the foundations for the next generation of construction experts, education is certainly a force for positive change. 

What do you think is the best way to resolve the current construction skills gap? Does the answer lie in educational reform? Tweet us your thoughts @Thatcherassoc!