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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Recruiter warns that construction skills shortages are about to get worse

Simon Harris, the managing director of construction, property and engineering recruitment at Randstad UK, says a combination of mega construction projects already under way in the UK and projects that are yet to begin — such as water infrastructure developments, the construction of the Lower Thames Crossing, the expansion of the National Grid and the Stonehenge Tunnel — as well as the imminent resurgence of the house-building market, is set to intensify the current talent shortage and lead to “a brutal labour shortage”.

Harris says existing projects , including HS2 and Hinkley Point, are already stretching the nation’s construction workforce.

HS2 employs 30,000 people now and HS2 and its contractors are still actively recruiting hundreds of new roles. EDF has confirmed the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point won’t be finished any time this decade. And Sizewell C, which is only at the enabling works stage, is already creating hundreds of job vacancies. The construction of Sizewell C is could start this year, with construction taking between nine and 12 years, creating thousands of jobs.

Simon Harris said: “The construction industry is already stretched thin. We have lost a lot of people from the house-building side of the industry, in particular: the workforce has lost close to half a million people since 2008. There’s very little slack in the system.”

He continued: “At the moment, it’s hard, but not impossible, to recruit. But the

combination of mega construction projects already underway and projects that are yet to begin will intensify the current talent shortage and lead to a brutal labour shortage. Soon interest rates will dip and house-builders will put their foot on the gas.

“The perfect storm will hit in 2026, when the Lower Thames Crossing finally kicks off. Construction employers without a bullet-proof long-term workforce plan will find the going very hard indeed. It will make the 2007 war for talent look like a water fight. And who knows what the sector does when we break ground on the 1¼ mile Stonehenge tunnel and start overhauling eight miles of the A303.”

The construction labour force was approximately 2.6m strong in 2008. By the end of 2023, the sector employed just 2.1m people.

Randstand believes the industry needs to return to its former size. Simon Harris said: “If

construction employers are to meet the challenge, they are going to have to hire approximately half a million people. Employers who want to navigate the next few years effectively are going to have to look at hiring people from different backgrounds and fishing in more diverse talent pools; pay more for skills; and grow more of their own talent. They need to focus on apprenticeships and training new hires as well as upskilling existing employees. They’re going to have to move to skills-first recruitment, rather than looking for ‘experience’ above all else. Let’s not forget that experience doesn’t exist for some new roles like green skills or AI-based tech.”

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