BDC

UK construction sector in the midst of a massive skills shortage

a female construction worker stands behind a scaffold and smiles to camera on a building site

Buildings to be made but not enough workers to build them: this is apparently the scene recently set by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) in a report which states that the UK construction industry must find at least 157,000 new recruits by 2021 in order to keep up with demand. This comes at a time when the government has committed to fund 3,000,000 new apprenticeships across every sector in England by 2020.

However, these aren’t the only issues currently facing the construction sector, as there are also the matters of gender pay gap and use of new robotic technology to discuss. It has transpired that some building firms are paying women a staggering 62% less per hour than men and that more discrepancies with pay are likely to be revealed in the coming months. This is due to new government regulations that businesses with 250 employees or more should have filed details of their gender pay gap before the 4th April 2018, with a fine forthcoming should details not be submitted.

Fresh off the heels of the Women In Construction Campaign launched in the UK, managing director of Constructing Equality, Chrissi McCarthy, said that the gender pay gap needs to close if the sector wants to encourage a positive image and to help promote recruitment. “While the pay gap in construction is embarrassing it should not be surprising given the stories women are still telling about their time in the industry”, said McCarthy. “Importantly until companies recognise that the gender pay gap is a symptom of poor people management and a real challenge to the longer term business bottom line, we are unlikely to see the resource and thinking that needs to be employed to really challenge these statistics.”

Despite new recruiting software considerably reducing the challenge many businesses face in finding good candidates, it appears a bigger test is on the horizon: the rise of the machines. Whilst not at Terminator levels of awareness just yet, the use of robotics in construction is significantly increasing, spearheaded primarily by tech startups in the U.S. A company named Built Robotics is at the forefront of using robots, drones, and software in a bid to improve safety, speed and productivity. Bricklaying robots are already in use on some worksites across the world, notably one named SAM (Semi-Automated Mason), which costs $400,000 (£282,300) and can lay around 3,000 bricks in eight hours – hundreds and hundreds more than a human.

Although there is some fear of a robotic revolution in the construction industry, 88% of industry professionals believe we still won’t see human-free worksites in the next 10 years. It’s thought that robots can be used to assist humans rather than replace them on sites. Job losses are understandably a huge issue to keep in mind with the seemingly unavoidable use of more robotics on construction sites, as it’s clearly a boon that many firms would not be limited to typical working hours or health and safety regulations with the use of machines. However, on-site maintenance and the use of particular materials still require a human presence.

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BDC 301 February 2023