How to find Contractors for your Construction Project in a Talent-Short Market


The shortage of skilled contractors in the construction industry remains a major challenge a...

Rebecca O'Rourke

By Rebecca O'Rourke

The shortage of skilled contractors in the construction industry remains a major challenge as demand for construction projects continues to increase. 

In this blog, we will explore the reasons behind the construction sector's talent shortage, the impact on the industry, and potential solutions to ensure the industry is well-equipped for its future projects.

The Current Landscape

The construction industry is currently experiencing tremendous growth owing to the increasing population, urbanisation, and the need for upgraded infrastructure. Moreover, the industry is benefiting from greater investments in sustainable construction practices and the adoption of advanced building materials and techniques, which are further fuelling its expansion.

The industry plays a pivotal role in society, contributing to economic growth, infrastructure development, and job creation. However, the construction industry is facing the challenge of finding enough skilled workers to meet this growing demand, and it’s a global battle.

According to the UK Trade Skills Index 2023, the construction and trades industry in the UK will require 937,000 new recruits over the next decade, with Scotland alone needing 31,000. In the US, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) estimates that the construction industry needs to attract around half a million new workers in 2024 to balance supply and demand.

Over in the Middle East, there’s a critical demand for skilled professionals in engineering, architecture, and construction trades, with exciting new infrastructure gaining approval at a rapid rate. Many countries also require substantial investments in infrastructure, such as utilities and roads, to support further development.


What is Causing the Shortage of Talent?

Several factors have contributed to a widening skills gap in the construction industry, including a decline in the number of apprentices, an ageing workforce, and a surge in investment.

Some of the most in-demand jobs within the global construction industry are:

  • Construction Estimator
  • MEP Manager
  • Construction Lawyer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Structural Engineer
  • Building Inspector Assistant
  • Construction Surveyor
  • Construction Project Coordinator
  • Construction Equipment Operator
  • Construction Labourer


Decline in Young Talent

One major contributor to the skills shortage is the decline in the number of apprentices entering the construction industry. The Financial Times reported that in 2021, only 713,000 people were registered as apprentices across the disciplines offered, which is the lowest annual total since 2010. Additionally, almost half of these didn’t complete their course.

Additionally, some younger individuals may perceive construction work as blue-collar and less prestigious than white-collar professions, leading them to pursue other career paths. The perception of the construction industry as being less technologically advanced than other sectors may also deter tech-savvy younger individuals from considering it as a viable career option.

Educational systems and societal emphasis on traditional academia may steer young people away from considering skilled trades as a rewarding career path. A study by Redrow found that 60% of surveyed individuals acknowledge that attending university is or was more strongly encouraged at their school. Additionally, nearly half of them believe that there is a negative perception surrounding apprenticeships compared to pursuing higher education.

Insufficient exposure to the diverse career opportunities within the construction industry and limited promotional efforts may contribute to a lack of awareness and interest among younger individuals, who believe common misconceptions about all construction jobs being labour-focused.


Ageing Workforce

Another factor exacerbating the skills shortage is the ageing workforce in the construction industry, with over 35% of construction workers aged over 50.

Being an industry that is very physically demanding, it’s likely that these older and more experienced workers will exit the industry within the next decade, and there’s not enough fresh talent entering the industry to replace them.

The Construction Products Association predicts that the construction industry will face an additional shortage of over 500,000 workers due to retirement in the next ten years, further highlighting the need for fresh talent.


Surge in Investment

While increased investment in construction projects is a positive sign for the industry, it also contributes to the skills shortage. Global housing initiatives and infrastructure projects have resulted in a surge in demand for skilled workers.

In August 2022, the Government Construction Pipeline revealed that around £119 billion worth of projects were planned for the next five years. This increased demand for construction workers and the existing skills shortage further highlights the urgency of addressing the skills gap.


The Industry Impact of the Skills Shortage

The shortage of skilled workers in construction has substantial implications for the economy, employment, and project completion. It can impede the industry's growth and cause delays in delivering crucial infrastructure projects and affordable housing schemes.

Impact on Project Costs and Timelines

One critical issue arising from labour shortages is increased project costs. A smaller pool of available talent for vacant positions can lead to higher wages for skilled workers, driving up project costs. Insufficient workers can also lead to delays and prolonged project completion, impacting overall timelines and deadlines, in turn increasing costs even more.

Worker Well-being and Burnout

The shortage in talent puts pressure on existing workers, who may be forced to work longer hours to compensate for the lack of manpower, leading to burnout and impacting their physical and mental health.

Burnout and fatigue resulting from longer working hours can reduce productivity and increase the risk of accidents on construction sites.

Quality Control and Safety Issues

Working within a highly regulated industry means quality control is one of the most essential elements in construction. Labour shortages can force contractors to proceed with projects without a complete crew, potentially resulting in workers taking on duties beyond their ability, impacting project quality and safety.

Rushed project completion due to labour shortages can also lead to poor quality controls and dangerous working conditions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in 2021, there were 169,200 recorded injuries in the construction industry. Increased pressures on staff, paired with underqualified workers stepping up and taking on more responsibilities beyond their remit, can exacerbate the number of accidents.


How to Find and Retain Construction Talent

Search for Talent in Neighbouring Industries

Similar or neighbouring engineering sectors such as managerial, technical, and skilled trades can bring in workers with transferable skills to the construction industry, redistributing existing talent to meet current talent needs. According to the ECITB, 14% of the total construction workforce originated from other sectors.

There is also the option for retraining workers from adjacent sectors, such as chemicals or oil & gas, building on their existing knowledge and skills to make them more suitable for construction-based roles.

Various transferrable skills bridge the engineering disciplines, offering construction projects a wider pool of talent to choose from.

  • Hard skills such as: Physical strength, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, bricklaying, masonry, carpentry, framing, plumbing, electrical, drywall, roofing, sheet metal work, demolition, HVAC, inspecting, painting, repairs, measuring, installation, maintenance, power tools, renovations, surveying, ironwork, and mathematics.
  • Technical skills such as: Familiarity with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, Uniform Building Code (UBC) and Hazardous Materials Management (HAZMAT); Microsoft Office Suite; and training on a variety of heavy machinery.
  • Soft skills: Teamwork, collaboration, active listening, willingness to learn, problem-solving, decision-making, communication, and organisation.
  • Certifications and training: There are a wide range of certifications some skilled workers may have that work across disciplines, such as heavy equipment operation licenses, health and safety training or engineering qualifications.


Foster a Great Company Culture

Contractors don’t want to work for companies who don’t value their time, safety, effort, and abilities, regardless of how highly they are paid. Word of mouth travels quickly, and candidates who have poor experiences may share them with colleagues and even online.

Cultivating a supportive, inclusive workplace culture that values teamwork, open communication, and employee input will be much more attractive to candidates looking for their next role. Diversity and inclusion play a key role in how candidates will view your company. Companies that foster an inclusive workplace culture that values diverse perspectives and backgrounds can make the industry and their vacant roles more appealing.

Defining and communicating core values that reflect the company’s mission and principles can set a clear tone for the behaviour, culture, and environment a candidate can expect when signing a contract with you. Open communication, feedback, and idea-sharing can be core elements in any engineering industry, so promoting collaboration and a sense of community can empower individuals in their roles.

Offer Incentives, Benefits and Opportunities

Offering competitive salaries, performance-based bonuses, referral schemes, and comprehensive benefits packages can attract talent to your company over others.

Upskilling current talent to prepare them for more senior roles in the coming decades and providing professional development, training, and mentorship opportunities will help employees advance in their careers and, in turn, give companies a higher calibre of talent on their roster.

With the ageing population due to retire. Recognising and rewarding employee achievements and providing clear paths for career advancement within the organisation can ensure a contractor stays on board for several decades rather than jumping ship for a better salary once their contract is finished.

More than ever, candidates are looking for a more balanced lifestyle with fixed hours, less weekend work and reduced commute times. Despite construction being a primarily hands-on industry that requires a large amount of on-site work for several roles, work-life balance is still something that is non-negotiable for candidates.

It will be worth the company's time to implement wellness programmes and mental health support to demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being. In an industry such as construction that can be very labour-heavy with long shifts and time away from home, so providing a support system for candidates can keep them on-side when they consider looking elsewhere.


Engage Fresh Talent

Recruiting and training young talent, including recent school graduates and those from further education or higher education, can give companies a fresh pool of eager and engaged candidates to pull from.

Closer collaboration between educational institutions and the construction industry at all levels is essential to ensure that new candidates have the necessary skills and awareness of the routes into employment. This collaboration can include apprenticeship programmes, work placements, and targeted outreach to promote the exciting opportunities available in the construction sector.

Apprenticeship programmes are a valuable tool for bringing in fresh talent and providing them with the necessary skills to succeed in the industry.

More and more younger people entering the industry want a job that gives them a strong sense of fulfilment. Highlighting the impact of construction projects on communities, infrastructure development, and sustainable practices can appeal to the socially conscious values of young talent.

Search for Talent on a Global Scale

With the demand for skilled workers as high as ever, sourcing from other countries is a lucrative solution for employers. Expatriates can possess sought-after skills that may be unavailable locally.

Working with an Employer of Record (EOR) that can provide workforce solutions can also make this less daunting for companies needing talent quickly. These entities serve as the official employer for tax and insurance purposes while the employees work at a client's worksite.

EOR services can offer several benefits in the construction industry. For instance, they can handle payroll, benefits administration, and workers' compensation insurance, reducing the administrative burden on construction companies.

Additionally, EOR services can assist with compliance-related activities, such as managing employee taxes and ensuring adherence to labour laws and regulations. They can provide access to broader and potentially more cost-effective benefits packages for construction workers, including health insurance and retirement plans.

By outsourcing these functions to an EOR, construction companies can focus more on their core business activities and ensure that their workforce is effectively managed and supported within the legal and regulatory requirements.


How We Can Help with Your Workforce Needs

Skilled engineers are in high demand in the construction industry, as companies rely on their expertise to research, design, and construct the industry's future.

NES Fircroft, with its expert recruitment teams, has offices in over 45 countries and can provide a pool of talented professionals to meet your engineering and technical needs for global roles in construction, infrastructure, and engineering.

With decades of experience in international expansion, we can assist you in hiring employees from across the globe quickly, compliantly, and with minimal risk. Contact us today to explore how we can support your workforce needs.