The construction job market has endured a period of unprecedented disruption over the past 12 months as businesses have fought their way through a series of challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has a been a period of great change as employers have reacted in real time to cope. How these changes manifest themselves in the job market long term remain to be seen but there is undoubtedly a sense that a full return to pre-covid routines is unlikely.
What is clear is that it has become more challenging to support new or returning workers to the construction industry as increased remote working and social distancing on-site make it difficult to provide the required support and development opportunities. At the same time, it is highly likely we will see unprecedented demand for construction staff of all levels as we emerge from the pandemic. A combination of pent up demand in the private sector and acceleration of public sector infrastructure investment should see construction activity peak in the UK. It is important therefore that the industry very quickly starts to look at how we invest and support new talent in construction.
Our desire to cut commute times and spend less time in the office is likely to lead to a migration from traditional office spaces in city centres to out of town locations with cleaner air, more space and freedom for employees to work in. On the other hand, building owners within city centres may seek to re-invent their space to maximise rental incomes in future. This transformation should create a wealth of construction opportunities within both fit-out and new build construction sectors going forward. Additionally, our changing patterns of travel and communication may require some nimble thinking within public bodies and utility providers, possibly prompting further demand for civil, mechanical and electrical engineering talent.
None of this even takes in to account the potential impact of Brexit. If barriers for entry into the UK are tightened, it is very likely we could lose a large proportion of skilled and semi-skilled construction workers – some reports suggest this process is already well underway. The UK construction industry’s need for skilled staff will only further heighten. This may see us return to a more traditional approach in future of promoting leaders from a trades background as opposed to university degree qualified graduates. In tandem with this better engagement with schools and a concerted effort to promote vocational training via apprenticeship and trainee schemes should be part of the equation.
All of this adds up to a picture of great change but also of great opportunity. It will require Job Seekers within the construction sector to adapt their plans and approach to realign with the demands of the market. It will also likely require a degree of patience and persistence as employers themselves adapt to these changes. However, we can be confident that the longer-term trend will be positive and with that, the demand for construction and engineering skills will grow significantly.