Britain needs to build things. Business leaders and politicians know it, and so does everyone else. We urgently need new housing and infrastructure across the country and for a variety of sectors. As anyone in my sector will tell you, there are lots of reasons why this currently isn’t happening – from planning laws to funding restrictions.
But an under-discussed challenge that business leaders in construction face is one of recruitment and retention. Our sector has one of the most rapidly ageing workforces in the UK, with research showing that close to a million construction workers – around a third of the UK’s total workforce – are set to retire in the next ten years.
We’re getting dangerously close to a cliff-edge. If skilled workers retire and there are not enough people to replace them, our already congested construction pipelines slow down even further. There is an increasingly pressing need to recruit fresh talent into roles. But to be able to do this, we need to tackle an issue that demands immediate and sustained attention – the lack of diversity across our sector.
Right now, only 15 per cent of our current workforce are women, and just 6 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds. While we can’t say for sure, it’s almost certain those numbers are worse for those working on-site as well. We know from our research that we aren’t attracting and retaining from a diverse pool of talent, because many think the construction sector is not for them.
Crucially, a shift in people’s perceptions can make a difference, and make our sector more attractive to a wider range of individuals. New polling of over 2,000 adults shows that nearly half of Brits (46 per cent) say they’d be more likely to actively seek out employment opportunities in the construction industry if it demonstrated a stronger commitment to diversity and inclusion.
This is clearly an industry-wide challenge that requires an industry-wide solution. Earlier this month at the Builder’s Merchant Federation annual conference, the Construction Inclusion Coalition was launched in front of hundreds of businesses a cross the sector.
The organisations involved are urging all parts of the industry – from housebuilders to manufacturers, logistics and suppliers – to commit to working on seven different key areas to help boost the contraction workforce.
Those areas include sharing resources across the sector, running educational programmes for colleagues and measuring our impact in a number of areas. Through sector-wide collaboration, we can raise standards across the board.
Many people outside the sector have a view of how welcoming construction might be for those from different backgrounds. For my part, I’m glad I have had the chance to rise through the ranks to become a senior woman leader in my industry. But I also know there are many who haven’t had the same opportunity and even more who haven’t got in through the door, because of legitimate concerns about working in construction.
No one is pretending that improving equity, diversity and inclusion in the construction sector is a silver bullet to all of our challenges. But if we don’t prioritise recruiting, retaining and championing diverse leaders, we run the risk of not having the necessary expertise and skilled individuals primed to deliver the housing and infrastructure that Britain needs.