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Monday, 31 October 2016

Millennials: spoiled brats or key to the success of the construction industry?

Everyone knows there is a skills shortage in the construction industry. There are reportedly 182,000 construction jobs that need to be filled by 2018 and currently no real plan to achieve this. I touched upon it in my last post because given the male to female ratio in the industry it would seem crazy not to try and fill it with bright, capable, hardworking women. However there is another labour source currently not being fully engaged; Millennials. So this post will look into why millennials are shunning construction in favour of pretty much any other industry.

Millennials get a pretty bad rap. Defined as those born between 1982 and 2004, they are branded lazy, entitled, narcissistic with no work ethic and who can't commit - to a job, to a relationship, not even to a diet fad! But is this really fair? In the U.K. (and a lot of the developed world) we are facing the issues of an ageing population. In the construction industry specifically this means that more people are retiring but there are not enough people to replace them. And here arises the current issue of The Skills Gap.

The skills gap is an issue in the construction industry because whilst the economy is in good shape and the construction projects are plentiful, more and more people train in the trades and in the construction professions. In an economic downturn the construction industry is one of the first to go with funding disappearing and projects being put on hold. Therefore people leave because there is not enough work and move to other industries, rarely coming back. Just look at the shortage of Bricklayers and Quantity Surveyors as an example. 

The issue is this, Millennials, the next generation of the UK workforce are simply not interested in the construction industry. They perceive it as slow, outdated and traditional which when compared to industries such as Tech, which are are fast paced, agile and innovative it is easy to understand why construction is rarely first choice.

So what can we do to attract millennials to the industry? 

1. Embrace new technology. There are so many technological advances that can bring construction into the present day and make working much more efficient allowing contractors to cut costs on projects. BIM and Drones are good examples. Millennials are technologically savvy and find it easy to adapt to new ways of working.

2. Show the potential a career in the industry has. Millennials are looking for opportunities to be successful in whatever they do. They are looking for career advancement and leadership opportunities. It is important to move away from the "time served" approach of so many older members of the industry and look at ability and track record when it comes to promotions and rewards.

3. Flexibility. A recent article by the FT reported that the culture of long hours fails to deliver. The outcome is that rigid working cultures that measure performance by the hour lead to fatigue. Flexibility in working and a move away from a culture of "face time" in the office is attractive. People recognise they have deliverables and that they are responsible for them. Flexibility in working hours doesn't mean people work less, but it leads to happier, more productive workers because they can work around other commitments like children or so that they can travel in less busy periods of the day. 

4. Make the earning potential obvious. Construction can pay well. Particularly with a shortage in skills and a larger demand for project personnel is pushing wages up. This is especially the case in rail where there is an even larger labour shortage, there is the potential for wages to increase. According to pay for massively in-demand rail workers and engineers building new lines and tunnels has soared by a staggering 74 per cent between 2012-2015. 

This group of young, bright and talented people could be the answer to filling the labour shortages and reducing the number of available construction jobs from 182,000. With unemployment amongst 18-24 year olds in the UK at a level where it is one of the highest in the developed world this could solve two major issues the UK is facing. Attracting Millennials could also be a way of bringing the construction industry into a new era, focusing on using the latest technology and efficient working moving the industry away from the old rhetoric of "this is how we've always done it".  

By attracting the brightest and smartest young minds to replace those leaving the industry, it could become the norm for construction projects meet the targets of being completed to time, quality and budget. 

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