Construction vacancies highlight ‘gargantuan skills gap’

Vacancies in the construction sector remain high as demand for workers continues to outstrip supply.

There were 48,000 vacancies in the three months to March, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That is the same number as in February, but the figure had jumped by 10,000 from January to February.

Kieran Boyle, managing director of Gloucester-based recruitment group CKB Recruitment, said there was a “gargantuan skills gap” in the sector.

“This is easily the most candidate-driven market we have ever experienced,” he added. “The fight for talent is being won by the companies who have embraced flexible working, as people now want this as a rule.”

Julia Kermode, founder of self-employed champion group IWork, said some “restrictive approaches” to job creation were stopping people from applying for jobs.

“Now that we are moving post-pandemic, companies are reverting to type and are less inclined to offer flexible working, cutting out huge swathes of potential candidates such as those with caring responsibilities, disabled people, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, part-timers and many more,” she added.

“It’s about time businesses recognised the value of attracting a diverse workforce, as there are so many people who are willing and able to work, and who want to contribute to the economy, but don’t have the option to do so because far too many companies have legacy mindsets.”

Unemployment in the sector has dropped by nearly a quarter in comparison to last year, with 54,000 people out of work in the most recent three-month period. In the three months to February 2021, 70,000 people were unemployed in the construction sector.

IronmongeryDirect and ElectricalDirect managing director Dominick Sandford said that suggests “stability has started to return” in the sector.

“The drop in unemployment is fantastic news for UK construction and follows recent increases in the overall number of workers,” he added. “This data hopefully suggests that we’re set for a positive summer, with plenty of opportunities for the excellent people working in the sector.”

Skills shortages in the industry have persisted over the last year, with the number of self-employed workers in construction hitting an 18-year low at the beginning of 2021.

The need for more applications from within the sector has pushed some contractors to come up with other ways of attracting staff.

In an interview with Construction News last month, Kier group HR director Helen Redfern said a 20 per cent increase in applications owed a lot to a number of family-friendly policies that the contractor had introduced, including an increase in paid maternity leave to 26 weeks.

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