Recruitment and Retention – RSMA Annual Conference Addresses Issues in the Employee Pipeline

Recruitment and retention in the construction industry has been an ongoing topic of discussion for some time, with 83% of the sector reporting difficulties in recruitment. An ageing workforce, a lack of young people interested in joining the sector, COVID, and the long-term effects of Brexit have all played a part in a growing skills gap and an increasing need for workers.

According to the Fuller Working Lives in Construction Report, conducted by CITB: ‘The sector is caught in a vice squeezing the employment market at both ends – with fewer younger people available, and earlier leaving and retirement in the older age groups. People – and more importantly, skills – lost to retirement or for other reasons represent a double blow for employers, who find it increasingly difficult to recruit enough younger staff with the right levels of skill.’

CITB’s New Perspectives on Recruitment to the Construction Industry Report suggests ‘bringing the knowledge and understanding of insiders to outsiders and bring the outsiders inside.’ The report outlines six main ways to improve the situation:

  1. Increasing the visibility and awareness of construction
  2. Emphasising the strengths of the industry
  3. Targeting recruitment
  4. Trying different attraction approaches
  5. Working to change perceptions
  6. Adjusting employment practices and changing the pervasive macho culture

These ideas were shared at the 2024 RSMA Annual Conference.

Julie Davidson (Head of Quality, Safety, Health & Environment at Jointline), Danny O’Reilly (Contracts Manager at Hi-Way Services), Cathryn Greville (Head of Fairness, Inclusion & Respect at Supply Chain Sustainability School),  Stephen Cole (Senior Customer Engagement Manager at CITB), and Nathan Wilkins (Customer Engagement Manager at CITB) had a panel discussion on unlocking the value of people in the road-marking industry. As an ongoing concern for many companies in road marking, but also the wider construction industry, the discussion focused on the need to educate young people on the benefits of working in the sector, and also risks of an ageing workforce and loss of skills.

According to International Policy Digest: ‘For the past several years, unemployment rates for virtually every type of blue-collar worker, from managers all the way down to entry-level, low-skilled workers, have risen steadily. It’s essential to note that, over the same period, the number of people with a bachelor’s-level degree has skyrocketed. In other words, there are now more jobs available than there are people who are willing or able to fill them.’

The traditional blue-collar roles are less appealing to tech-driven younger generations. The perception of what makes a ‘good’ job has changed, with many young people seeking high-paying white-collar jobs having stayed in education for longer.

With 225,000 people needed by 2027, a quarter of the current workforce within 10 years of retirement, and only 10% of workers in the 16-25-year-old bracket, a change is needed to help the industry move forward.

Julie Davidson talked about the need to increase the attractiveness of the industry to potential recruits. She said there were challenges to overcome: the long, unsocial working hours, time spent away from family, and the pressure to keep up with physical demands of work. Julie said that being upfront on these issues can often scare off potential employees, but that being truthful and matter-of-fact is a quality most people in the industry appreciate.

Nathan Wilkins added that it was important to make people feel safe, and that making employees feel seen and heard leads to better retention rates.

Beforehand, Stephen Cole spoke about how best to retain and develop people. He said that the four pillars to good working conditions were:

  • Fair pay and conditions
  • Workplace wellbeing
  • Skills and progression
  • Diversity and recruitment

The younger generation want to share the same values as their employer, and rate this as a key factor when considering a role. ‘It is important to individuals regardless of sector. Key values influencing career decisions are: stability in where and who you work for, having pride in your work, helping others, making a difference, and a flexibility in work hours – though key values do vary according to respondent background and current industry.’

It is great to bring people into construction, but if there are poor incentives and substandard working conditions, recruits won’t stay. A robust exit process was also discussed. Knowing why workers are leaving is paramount to improving culture and retention. Julie touched on how Jointline had put a lot of work into their exit process so they could better understand how to keep skilled workers.

Plenty of work needs to be done in recruitment and retention across the industry, and events like the RSMA Annual Conference offer an opportunity to share knowledge and ideas, and to come up with solutions for these ongoing issues.

Re-flow will be back on the road – and sharing how a digital solution can address many of the pain points in the industry – at the UK Infrastructure Show on Tuesday 12th March.

Come to stand U09 to speak to one of our software specialists. We’ll show you how Re-flow can help your business grow via our powerful, intuitive, and comprehensive digital field management system.