Blog: Build a construction career by filling the gaps

Andrew Stephen

Andrew Stephen gives his take on the current condition of skills and employment in the construction sector.

From a recruitment perspective, the construction industry in Scotland is buoyant. Candidates are being placed quickly into roles and the majority of builders are busy, including housebuilders and large contractors.

The volume of work is being driven in part by the Scottish Government’s target to build at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021. It is estimated this programme supports tens of thousands of jobs across the construction and associated sectors every year.

In addition, the Scottish Government’s ‘schools for the future’ programme, announced in 2009 to build 117 schools by 2020, is driving the market and keeping builders busy. There’s a lot of capital investment in the higher education field too, with large projects ongoing at Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities.

In the private sector, Edinburgh’s reputation as a popular tourist destination is fuelling demand for more hotels, which is good news for hospitality contractors. There are currently seven hotel construction projects underway in the city, with a further two set to begin soon after ISG won contracts worth more than £20 million to build hotels on Princes Street and Queen Street.

While contracts this size aren’t the norm – contracts over £10m are rare – there are projects between £1m and £10m up for grabs across the construction sector. There’s plenty of opportunity in the market for builders and with capital projects at a more manageable size, it presents less risk for companies. Furthermore, builders are increasingly seeking to secure longer-term building maintenance contracts, which offer a solid revenue stream.

Despite this, there are challenges and risks ahead for the sector, with skills gaps presenting a huge problem for builders to ensure they have the right mix of resource to deliver contracts. Commercial surveyors and estimators are in high demand as builders seek professionals with the expertise to identify the right type of contracts, secure new business and maximise value from a project.

Likewise, there is always demand for civil engineers and there are never enough to meet the demand from employers. Brexit is only likely to exacerbate this issue, as foreign skills are given no encouragement to stay and are discouraged from coming to work here.

Likewise, for trade skills, such as joinery, plumbing and bricklaying, the industry is facing a future skills crisis. The current workforce is either 22 or 52, which means in around a decade or so, we’ll lose a generation of skilled people without a sufficient succession plan.

Of course, this is great news for people who have these current skills. They are using it to their advantage, with demand allowing them to charge a premium for their work. It’s also a great time to consider apprenticeships in these areas, with positive long-term career development opportunities.

While individuals may benefit from career and employment opportunities, the sector as a whole is likely to suffer. If housebuilding and other capital and construction projects continue at current pace, it will have to ride out a skills crisis for a few years.

It will also mean it will be an interesting time for recruiters in the industry.

  • Andrew Stephen is director of construction, property and infrastructure at Change Recruitment