Why upskilling is key in 2022

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Construction companies need to hire – and train – with tomorrow in mind, says Graham Harle.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of deja-vu at the start of this year, against an all-too-familiar backdrop of another covid variant, materials prices still staggeringly high and the availability of skilled labour at an all-time low.

It seems unwise then to try to predict how the rest of the year might unfold, but one thing I do know is that nothing slows our industry down more than a shortage of talent – and that is one challenge we are absolutely going to have to tackle, soon.

The construction industry has had an undeniable image problem for some time. But now, with more than 20% of construction workers in their 50s and a mass exodus of EU-born workers in the wake of the pandemic and Brexit, the situation is reaching a critical point.

The CITB estimates that we need to recruit around 217,000 people by 2025 if we’re going to be able to build back better and that is no mean feat, as anyone who has tried to fill vacancies lately will tell you.

Gleeds CEO Graham Harle

“It seems that, at a time when the industry is struggling to recruit anyone at all, those of us with vacancies to fill want applicants to tick more boxes than ever. We cannot, however, place the burden of upskilling entirely on the individual.”

Graham Harle

This struggle is at least forcing companies to increase their agility and innovation in the way they hire and train workers. While apprenticeship programmes will hopefully be expanded to attract and develop new talent, this is not a quick fix. And when the next generation does filter through, their expectations will be high. Hybrid working, for example, has already become a core requirement for many staff post-lockdown, so employers across the board will have to adapt accordingly if they are to entice and retain the best people in an employee’s market.

As well as making cultural changes to enable an evolution in where we work, we’re also going to need to prioritise upskilling our existing workforce to keep pace with the digital evolution influencing how we work. We must ensure that when we hire, we do so with tomorrow in mind.

As the drive toward net zero ramps up, carbon benchmarking and feasibility advice will also become a core skill and in an increasingly digitised world, there needs to be a focus on training construction professionals to use the latest new digital tools. Mastering cutting-edge construction technologies, such as BIM software and data analytics applications is essential.

Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) digital technologies also promise to improve productivity, efficiency, and safety, so candidates with demonstrable experience here will have the edge. Being a whizz at Excel will no longer be sufficient. Clients are expecting real-time dashboarding capabilities using the likes of Power BI and Tableau, with coding and app building skills to boot.

Even those on the ground will need to get to grips with the use of digital tools connecting the site and office teams on a project. From augmented reality and Terminator-like exosuits, to smart boots and hard hats, no aspect of construction is exempt from this period of digital ‘levelling up’.

While robotics, modular construction methods and blockchain may make it feel as though the human element is all but redundant, I would argue that the role of the individual is actually becoming more important. Cost consultants and project managers, for example, must have the expertise to take computer-generated data and accurately interpret it on behalf of the client. They will need to have practical experience and a knowledge of the wider industry in order to contextualise that information, calculate risk, and make recommendations.

So called ‘soft skills’ will be vital: the ability to effectively communicate complex data sets to clients who may not be familiar with the built environment and all its idiosyncrasies.

It seems that, at a time when the industry is struggling to recruit anyone at all, those of us with vacancies to fill want applicants to tick more boxes than ever. We cannot, however, place the burden of upskilling entirely on the individual. It is down to us as employers to deliver the training and support necessary to create a workforce fit for the demands of tomorrow.

Graham Harle is CEO of Gleeds.

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  1. Upskilling is a real challenge for the construction industry, it’s very difficult to plan far in advance, due to the peaks and troughs in demand, due to the economic climate cycles.

  2. Issues of upskilling, as it affects construction industry, is a global affair.
    Professionals in this noble area, has to work on way forward, for training and retraining, of both professionals and artisans, for future.

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