Construction’s Talent Gap down to underrepresentation?


Pre-construction director at Keltbray, Rich Smith, on opportunity in the industry. 

Graphic of man thinking with though cloud about construction activities.

Labour shortages in UK construction has been a heated topic of concern in the industry for the last couple of years. 

The Construction Skills Network’s (CSN) Industry Outlook 2023-2027 report states that an extra 225,000 construction workers may be needed by 2027, with a total projected workforce of 2.67 million across the country. 

The main areas for recruitment include: 

  • Private housing 
  • Infrastructure 
  • Repairs and maintenance 

‘Construction is not popular’ 

A 2021 UCAS report, “What influences the choices school leavers make?” found that the majority of school leavers choose their degrees based on enjoyment and employability

The top career choices revealed in the report included pre-clinical medicine, teaching, and nursing. 

Information on careers seems to have been a barrier in students making better choices, with one-in-three students reporting that they did not receive any information about apprenticeships from their school. 

Further research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) found that 45% of those who progress with construction courses do it because they do not know what else to do. 

The ambivalence toward the industry by young learners suggests that construction has a marketing problem, both in how it presents itself, and the range of careers it can offer. 

An industry leader perspective 

Rich Smith at Keltbray has been in construction for 10 years. He tried his hand in IT, but knew it was not the career for him. Like many in the industry he “really did fall into construction.”

In an interview with Katie Kelleher for the Tales from the Hook podcast, Smith discussed his career and the opportunities in the industry young people simply are not exposed to. 

“As I was coming through school, girls at the time, and ultimately women were just fundamentally not encouraged to go into the industry at all, it wasn’t even talked about. 

“And for boys through school it was kind of a last resort thing, it was like if you can’t get into university and you’re struggling for what to do, you should consider doing a trade, maybe that’s a good route for you.”

Careers in pre-construction 

Through pre-construction, Smith has worked with a range of professionals with varied skills in creativity and business. 

“I sort of found myself in this world of pre-construction as I now know it. Business development, tendering, this whole world which to be perfectly honest, I had no idea existed. Didn’t know that it was there, didn’t realise that you had people with these skills in these businesses.

“We’ve got writers, we’ve got people whose job it is to be a writer […] and they will write about the project, write about how we’ll deliver it, they look at how that aligns to the clients, particularly their values. 

“We’ve got people who format bids, so graphic designers, who in effect make this stuff come to life, and make it an engaging submission to read.” 

Opportunity in apprenticeships

Smith’s team has also employed a new bid writing apprentice, whose job is focused specifically on tendering. That apprentice will manage the bidding process through their onsite and construction experience. 

“There’s so many roots, but I think for me the thing is trying to find people in that world and just talk to them. Every move I’ve made and in every different job role I’ve done, I can trace back to the first conversation I had with somebody in that world.” 

Rich has published a book called When I Grow Up, that looks to encourage KS1-aged children to consider a career in construction. 

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