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UK construction sector has an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ to provide well-paid local jobs in housing downturn

| Simon Shaw | 12 September 2023

With 1.2 million families waiting for social housing and an election looming next year, the Conservative government has an incredible opportunity to energise the construction sector - if it makes the most of shifting sentiment among young workers.

With reports of a ‘dwindling workforce’ threatening to create a slump in construction projects nationally, our leaders have a chance to upskill the industry and provide well-paying jobs across the country. How can they harness it?

A fascia lift: time to rejuvenate a retiring workforce

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, last month claimed that the government’s target of building 300,000 new homes every year was always “optional”. Ministers now insist that the target was “never mandatory” and that with intensive building in cities, this seemingly ephemeral objective is achievable - but the industry needs targeted investment, not excuses.

To ensure that there is sufficient affordable housing for purchase and the buy-to-let market, something has to change. Luckily, this failure does present an unusual opportunity…

Many of the issues impacting the construction industry are due to the median age of its workforce driving labour shortages. The most recent census revealed that most workers in this sector were 49 years old and the Homebuilder Federation (HBF) claims that one in five builders are aged over 50. With retirement looming for many in construction, the federation has good reason to insist that the government focuses on dedicated recruitment drives to avoid a further slump in housebuilding.

The organisation is also calling on the government to improve training, with only one in four workers now entering the construction industry after completing a full-time construction course, according to the HBF’s recent workforce survey.

Clearly, there is a discrepancy between different age groups that should be addressed to help the industry accrue new talent and hit homebuilding targets.

Securing young workers could be easier than ever

The government and the industry should view the failure to hit homebuilding targets and the impending retirement of many workers as an opportunity to alter its approach to the construction sector.

With wages fluctuating as interest rates and the cost of living continues to change, targeted investment in education and construction recruitment could paint a more appealing picture of the industry that better attracts talent.

With those starting university this year hitting the headlines for being the first graduates ever who may still be paying off their student loans all the way through to retirement, there is rising resentment from graduates as they experience the worst jobs market in years. This gives the government an unprecedented opportunity to harness young talent to refresh the construction sector on a fundamental level.

Creating clearer opportunities straight out of school for leavers to enter into a lucrative career with no debt and open prospects could mean that the construction industry could have a very bright future indeed.


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