The construction sector is no stranger to a challenge, but as Mark Farmer – author of last year’s “Modernise or Die” report – identified – “we are now facing a set of problems that we haven’t seen before”.
Many of these problems are outwardly obvious such as economic uncertainty in light of Brexit, discontent in poor quality building and poor productivity. One area that people may not be as aware of is the problem of an ageing workforce, particularly in the Building Services sector where we are in severe danger of losing a generation of knowledge with a distinct lack of talent to take up the mantle.
The simple fact is that the construction industry as a whole is failing to attract the requisite amount of people to the industry. In the case of Building Services, from what we see in the market, the problem is even more alarming. This of course stems from school years where construction still seems to be perceived as men on a site laying bricks and digging foundations, rather than the rich smorgasbord of careers the construction sector offers, from designing iconic buildings, buying materials for projects, managing logistics, health and safety, electrical installations – the list goes on and on.
This lack of buy-in at an early stage has led to the building services community, in particular, being heavily weighted towards the older end of the spectrum with a huge void left behind. Consequently finding candidates in their late 20s and 30s to step up into management roles and benefit from the vast bank of knowledge from their older peers is becoming extremely difficult. Yes, there are some extremely talented younger individuals working in the sector but in a market that has increased by 25% in the last 5 years, there simply isn’t at present enough to carry through a smooth succession plan for the continuity of the industry.
So what is being done? Apprenticeships offer a gateway to the industry but uptake for Building Services apprenticeships remain dangerously low and whilst work is being done to attract students to careers in STEM, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are so broad that funnelling potential candidates through specifically to the building services sector is not straightforward.
It may be that M&E Contractors themselves need to invest more time in making the sector more appealing to the younger generations– “sexing it up” for want of a better phrase. Let’s be honest, working as part of a great team on iconic buildings that shape skylines across the world is exciting stuff!
It certainly makes for an interesting sector in which to recruit with skill shortages leading to a competitive but ultimately unsustainable bubble where large premiums are paid for senior staff whilst businesses squabble for the best of the limited young talent pool.
The future of the building services sector will certainly be interesting to follow.