Construction vacancies highlight ‘gargantuan skills gap’

Vacancies in the construction sector remain high as demand for workers continues to outstrip supply.

There were 48,000 vacancies in the three months to March, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is the same number as in February, but the figure had jumped by 10,000 from January to February.

Kieran Boyle, managing director of Gloucester-based recruitment group CKB Recruitment, said there was a “gargantuan skills gap” in the sector.

“It’s by far the most candidate-driven market we’ve ever seen,” he added. “The fight for talent is won by companies that have embraced flexible working because people now generally want it.”

Julia Kermode, founder of freelance champions group IWork, said some “restrictive approaches” to job creation were keeping people from applying for jobs.

“Now that we are moving post-pandemic, companies are going back to type and are less inclined to offer flexible working, eliminating huge swathes of potential candidates such as those with family responsibilities, people with disabilities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, part-time workers and many more,” she added.

“It’s time for companies to recognize the importance of attracting a diverse workforce, because there are so many people who want and can work, and who want to contribute to the economy, but who don’t have the ability to do so because far too many companies have legacy mindsets.

Unemployment in the sector has fallen by nearly a quarter from a year ago, with 54,000 people out of work in the past three months. In the three months to February 2021, 70,000 people were unemployed in the construction sector.

IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect managing director Dominick Sandford said this suggests “stability has started to return” to the sector.

“The drop in unemployment is great news for construction in the UK and follows recent increases in the total number of workers,” he added. “These data hopefully suggest that we are set for a positive summer, with plenty of opportunities for the great people working in the industry.”

Skill shortages in the industry have persisted over the past year, with the number of self-employed construction workers hitting an 18-year low in early 2021.

The need for more applicants within the sector has prompted some entrepreneurs to find other ways to attract staff.

In an interview with Building News Last month, the Kier Group’s human resources director, Helen Redfern, said a 20% increase in job applications was largely due to a number of family-friendly policies the entrepreneur had introduced, including an increase in paid maternity leave to 26 weeks.

Alice F. Ponder