Adult learning and apprenticeships as solutions to the lack of females and an ageing workforce in the construction sector

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic took the global economy hostage, the Fourth Industrial Revolution was making a significant impact on the skills dynamic in all industries. Perhaps one of the industries hardest hit by simple industrial change – even prior to COVID-19 – is the construction industry.

03 December 2021

According to reports gathered in both 2015 and early-2020, the greatest threat to the construction industry is its ageing workforce, with the highest percentage of workers currently between the ages of 50 and 64 years, with younger generations just trickling in.

A further challenge to the UK’s construction industry is the steady loss of skilled workers – particularly migrants who are returning to their countries of origin, whether due to Brexit, more favourable economic opportunities, job insecurity due to COVID-19, or personal reasons, such as family reunification.

What does this mean for the construction industry and how do we address these challenges?

Acknowledging and embracing change

For starters, the Construction Skills Certificate Scheme Card ranks high on the Top 10 in-demand certified skills, according to the City & Guilds Skills Index Report this year.

Speaking of the current construction industry environment, Naz Lewis-Humphrey, Industry Manager for Construction of City & Guilds says, “In a nutshell, we’re struggling to recruit younger people. We’re on a mission to make construction an exciting and appealing industry for all to work in, and to entice hard-to-reach groups, women, and people of greater diversity in terms of background, skillset and age.”

With the construction workforce having less than 15% women and 6% from black, asian and minority ethnic communities, according to Lewis-Humphrey, perhaps the biggest hindrance to younger, more diverse people entering the sector, is the stigma attached to it and the lack of information about the sector. The image portrayed about construction over the last 20-30 years has been detrimental to the growth and development of its workforce – false, outdated perceptions that the government, and organisations like City & Guilds, are intent on correcting.

Historically, construction was perceived to be an easier, more practical vocation for those who were not academic by nature. As the industry has evolved, and especially with the introduction of green building and more advanced building technologies, the sector’s workforce requirements have evolved. “Green building, for example, should not be perceived as being more difficult to learn, but merely different,” says Lewis-Humphrey.

As the country moves towards its net-zero target for 2050, sustainability, renewable energy and green energy are par for the course in any sector. If anything, it should generate greater interest in younger generations, and people with diverse skills and competencies. In short, the construction industry no longer requires a majority workforce of pure brawn to lay bricks but offers a wider range of opportunities in various roles suitable to all kinds of people.

“What’s more, there are more qualifications available now,” says Lewis-Humphrey. “These are vocational qualifications that recognise people’s skills and competencies. A certain level of mathematics and English is required to qualify for certain apprenticeships in the industry.”

These factors can be seen as both hindrances to those who wish to embark on careers in construction, and opportunities for growth and development for those willing to put the work in. 

Adult learning and apprenticeships as solutions to increasing diversity and developing a better talent pipeline for the sector

Lack of funding for apprenticeships and public education about the industry has also played a significant role in crippling the construction sector’s growth over the past several years. With the government now firmly on board with funding, we can expect more information and more opportunities to open up in construction. How the sector works to deliver a positive message to attract more recruits from black, asian and minority communities will be key to successfully building an early talent pipeline.

In partnership with local government efforts to better fund and support growth in construction, City & Guilds has initiated a great deal of work to educate the public about the different paths to be taken and to encourage them to explore the options personally. This is being achieved through close partnerships with City & Guilds’ affiliated training providers, and companies and employers within the sector, who have helped us to develop:

  1. How we deliver a more positive message to the general public about opportunities
  2. How we can support training providers in recruiting students with an affinity for the industry, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background
  3. How we continually develop qualifications to better align with employer needs
  4. How we continually develop qualifications to cater for emerging roles within an ever-evolving industry

One of the most exciting developments in City & Guilds’ construction-centric qualifications is the introduction of digital skills to the curricula. Of increasing concern in the UK is the lagging development of digital skills in adults, young and old, within the workplace. With the impact that IT has on almost all industries, City & Guilds has seen fit to ensure that there are baseline digital skills qualifications implemented in our updated courses, according to the requirements of the kind of work that will be encountered in the workplace.

At City & Guilds, we anticipate exciting opportunities available through training and apprenticeships, which can expect to be funded through the Adult Education Budget (currently £1 billion per year). Adults aged 19 years and above may explore careers in new fields, sponsored or partially sponsored via a selection of 800+ qualifications in the UK, in multiple sectors.

Within the apprenticeships space employer-led standards are ensuring that apprentices are developing the skills that industry needs. New apprenticeship standards such as Carpentry & Joinery, Bricklayer, Painter and Decorator and Plasterer will support demand in the market for these skills, and will continue to be sought by employers, especially within the housebuilding sector.

Find out more about Adult Skills and Apprenticeships on our website. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can support you in within the construction and infrastructure industries please get in touch with our team

This article appeared in the AELP Insider magazine – Equality issue December 2021.