Many of the problems in the industry are outwardly obvious. Economic uncertainty in light of Brexit, discontent in poor quality building and poor productivity, are all having a negative effect before the problems can be addressed.
One area that people may not be as aware of is the problem of an aging workforce. The construction industry in particular is where we're in severe danger of losing a generation of knowledge with a distinct lack of talent to take up the mantle. The simple fact is that the construction industry as a whole is failing to attract the requisite amount of people to the industry.
Students still perceive construction as workers on a site laying bricks, digging foundations and sitting in hot vehicles. They don’t see how many careers the construction sector really offers. From designing iconic buildings, buying materials for projects, managing logistics, health and safety, electrical installations – the list goes on and on. Like any other industry, construction needs to be shouting about variety.
The lack of interest and education at an early stage, has led to the building services community being heavily weighted towards the older end of the spectrum with huge voids left in the middle and at the bottom. Instead, we are finding candidates in their late 20s and 30s step up into management roles without taking the time to learn from their older peers first.
There are some extremely talented younger individuals working in the sector, but in a market that has increased by 25% in the last 5 years, there simply isn’t enough of them to carry through a smooth succession plan. The construction industry could learn from the mechanical and electrical systems industry which has seen increased growth after past struggles.
So, what is being done?
Apprenticeships offer a gateway to the industry but uptake for building services apprenticeships remain dangerously low. While work is being done to attract students to careers in STEM, these fields are so broad that funneling potential candidates specifically to the building services sector is not straightforward. Again, the solution may lie in making the sector a lot more attractive to the younger generation, so they actively seek out opportunities.
It certainly makes for an interesting sector in which to recruit. Skills shortages may lead to a competitive but ultimately unsustainable bubble where large premiums are paid for senior staff and businesses squabble for the best of the limited young talent pool.
While the future of the building services sector will certainly be interesting to follow, the unsustainable question must be addressed. If it isn’t, we may find our landscapes and skylines will be dramatically changing as the generations go on.