Government’s Modern Method’s of Construction champion Mark Farmer on the ageing workforce, automation, and industry short-termism

Perhaps the most pressing issue within the construction industry, for several years now, has been the rapid deterioration of the sector’s employment pool leading to a skills shortage across the sector.

From the vulnerabilities presented by an ageing workforce to the danger of losing migrant workers in a post-Brexit landscape, the future of the construction sector appears to be approaching a tipping-point, with the only perceivable solution to this shortage of skills being a revolution in training and automation.

The ageing and migrant workforce

One of the most damaging characteristics of the construction workforce is that it is continually ageing, with manual labour understandably becoming less and less appealing to the younger demographic and therefore leaving the skilled yet older generations to the very physical industry.

A lifeline which maintained confidence in construction was that of migrant workers who, according to the 2017 Labour Force Survey, accounted for 14.5% of the British construction workforce.

However, this was then thrown into disarray by the prospect of Brexit which, following the continuous nearing and passing of deadlines, has witnessed a slow trickling of workers back to the continent. This, in turn, has been worsened by the repeated failure of the government to meet Brexit deadlines, which has somehow also failed to desensitise EU workers to the prospect of having to move, as they remain nervous about staying in Britain three years after the vote.

The recently appointed Champion of MMCs, and the founding Director of Cast Consultancy, Mark Farmer stated: “The age profile of the workforce continues to be one of the single biggest, but most insidious, risks to the construction industry’s future sustainability. The dilution of skills and competency, as well as head count pressures, create a double-edged risk. This is only then amplified by what is clearly now a manifest risk of relying upon migrant labour as we move to more restrictive EU rules on freedom of movement and employment.

“This all creates a heady cocktail of needing to have a more sustainable, domestic talent pool, attracting motivated, competent workers with aptitude to be multi-skilled, technology conversant, and able to transition in the next decade from analogue to digital working at all levels.

“I see and hear tales of a steady outflow of EU workers from UK back to their home countries. It is not a matter of fear for the future, it is more about decisions in the here and now which might link to family stability here in UK or repatriating wages back home to the EU. This is seen most in the London market where some trades are being impacted by leakage of workers.”

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