Home News Flexibility is key to tackling skills shortage in construction

The labour shortages facing the UK’s construction industry are the result of a  post-lockdown boom, according to a study of the current jobs market from specialist recruiter Randstad.

Randstad looked at changes in the ratios of vacancies to applications for jobs in the UK’s construction sector – using the volume of applications as a proxy for candidate volumes – across the UK’s construction workforce.

In the first half of 2020, Randstad said they had eight applications for every construction sector job advertised.  During the first half of 2021, this ratio fell to five applications per job.

Randstad says that, while the number of applications for construction sector roles fell by 23 per cent, the number of vacancies rose by a greater degree – increasing by 39  per cent.

Other industries were found to be experiencing similar trends. The biggest change in the supply and demand was in engineering roles.  In the first half of 2020, there were 17 applications per vacancy.  A year later, there were only four applications for every role.

Adrian Smith, senior director of operations at Randstad UK said, “There are staff shortages across the west, including the UK.  The construction industry is struggling to fill jobs in Ireland, of all places.

“So, we don’t think the labour shortages we are seeing in the UK are not, on the whole, being driven by a dearth of EU labour following Brexit.  The UK’s settlement scheme for residents of the EU had, by the end of May, received more than 5.6 million applications and at that point the programme still had a month to go. The ‘Brexodus’ hasn’t played out as we feared.

“Essentially, this is not primarily about a constriction in the supply of labour.  Workers are back in power because of the success of the vaccine rollout and the removal of lockdown restrictions – and the resulting economic bounceback – even with construction output having fallen recently.”

Randstad says that agile employers need to adapt to secure their first choice of candidate.

Mr Smith continued: “The end of furlough at the end of the month should unlock a chunk of the labour supply but it won’t solve the labour shortage problems overnight.

“The first thing to do is reevaluate your asking salaries and hourly rates. Construction employers are not, somehow, immune from these market forces.  At the start of the summer, we were seeing the average pay packet for construction workers up by 14 per cent compared to the same time last year.

“Second, if you find the right person, move fast – much faster than you would have done two years ago.  There are so many organisations looking to hire right now that, if you move slowly, you will miss out on the best people.

“Third, consider making more use of contractors and temporary staff, rather than focussing solely on permanent hires.  While the costs aren’t all that different, casting the net wider can help you secure a candidate who really fits the bill.”

“Lastly, if you are hiring office workers, rather than people on site, use remote working to widen your candidate pool.  Employers who demand people come into the office are now missing out on candidates to a degree that didn’t happen before the pandemic.  This change should go hand in hand with a re-examination of your wider benefits package in line with your  competitors.  Top of the list for workers at the moment is more flexibility.”

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