CIOB: Construction employment still tainted by outdated misconceptions

CIOB: Construction employment still tainted by outdated misconceptions

While the days of construction careers being portrayed as low paid, low skilled, low prospect jobs for academic underachievers should have been confined to history, new research shows the sector remains tainted by these outdated misconceptions.

Scotland’s construction industry struggles to recruit and faces worker shortages, which threaten to halt economic growth if not urgently addressed. Industry figures suggest around 4,000 additional people a year need to be recruited to construction jobs in Scotland if the sector is to meet expected demand. However, industry stakeholders suggest that meeting this target will be a challenge; data indicates that workers in Scottish construction earn around 7% less than the UK average and less than the average across all industry sectors.

A new report, ‘Building up Scotland – Professional insights from the construction sector in 2023’, has been published by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the world’s largest professional body for the built environment.

It looks at the current economic state of the Scottish construction sector, including output and pay, and provides insights from CIOB’s members in Scotland on the challenges faced by the industry. It says in Scotland the average annual earnings in construction last year were around £34,500**, which is less than the UK average for construction and other industry sectors.

In a recent survey commissioned by CIOB, when asked about pay in construction, more than half of people in Scotland (60%) perceived average earnings to be lower than the true figure.

When it comes to recommending a career in construction to their children or young people they know, almost as many people (28%) said they were very unlikely to recommend construction careers, as those who said they were very likely (25%).

CIOB says this is a major concern considering the industry’s significant role in the UK achieving not only economic growth, but also levelling up and net zero ambitions.

Caroline Gumble, CEO at CIOB, said: “Our report highlights just how big a contribution construction makes to the economy yet it’s a sector which is often taken for granted and overlooked at Government level and by individuals who are exploring career options or changing their career path.

“Our survey shows across the UK there are big misconceptions around earning potential, job prospects and working conditions and this is something the sector needs to work together to address if we’re to bridge the existing worker shortfall that will over time become bigger if nothing is done. Without construction workers, including those in IT, planning, administration and management, as well as the frontline trades, there can be no new homes or other infrastructure and our economy will grind to a halt.”

When asked to select words to describe construction jobs, “overly physical” and “dangerous” were among the three top answers from those who took part in the CIOB survey, supporting the belief that such outdated perceptions are a big factor in so many people, particularly women, not considering role in the industry. In reality, increasingly more construction-related jobs are office-based or site-based roles using modern technology, that don’t involve much, if any, physical activity.

Caroline Gumble added: “We know that the construction sector has an image problem, and our survey has thrown up some insightful data on where that is most prevalent. As an industry we must take the lead in promoting construction as a viable career with strong financial and career growth prospects, but we also need the support of education leaders, including careers advisors, to change attitudes and this needs to start with government.

“We want to see construction better represented in schemes to promote STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and maths) and vocational qualifications, not just in construction but more widely, given equal esteem with university degrees. Construction must be promoted as a sector in which people can make a positive difference, drive sustainability, improve their communities and leave a real legacy.”

CIOB’s consumer research also showed:

  • Scotland’s construction output in 2022 was more than £13 billion
  • Around 9% of construction workers in Scotland were born outside the UK
  • A quarter (25%) of respondents in Scotland said making the construction sector more attractive and accessible to women will help recruit more people into the industry
  • People over 55 years old are least likely to recommend construction careers, and men are more likely to than women

The report also includes insights from CIOB’s members across Scotland who overwhelmingly report that skills and worker shortages are amongst the biggest challenges they face. They say this problem has been exacerbated by more people, particularly those involved in the planning, design and administration of construction projects, now being able to work from home meaning they can take up roles outside Scotland which pay more.

They also said the sourcing and movement of workers and materials to the more remote areas of the country can cause delays to projects and drive up costs which are already being heavily impacted by high inflation. CIOB members added the predicted increase in new infrastructure projects and the jobs they will create is a positive opportunity for Scotland’s construction sector, but the industry will require support to recruit the people to deliver such projects.

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