What is the skills gap?

The construction sector is one of the top four contributors to the UK economy making up around 6% of GDP. Despite this, it is an industry that struggles to attract and retain top talent.

Since the 2008 recession, a widening skills gap has been developing. The recession hit the industry hard. 140,000 workers were lost. Companies that survived cut training budgets and scaled back on recruitment.

In the years since, it seems the industry has not been able to make up this deficit in talent. The problem has been highlighted in numerous reviews of the industry in the past decade, but it seems to be something we have come to accept.

But are we heading towards a disaster? 22% of construction professionals are over 50. As those with experience begin to retire, will we be left with a gap in knowledge which will be difficult to fill? Coupled with the fact that careers in construction appear to be unattractive to young people, you may start to wonder what will happen to the industry.

Why is it a problem?

It seems obvious that if you are lacking a skilled workforce, you will struggle to find experienced teams to work on your projects. But the problems go much deeper than that.

In the UK, the top causes of construction disputes are:

  • Failing to administer the contract correctly
  • Failure to comply with contractual obligations
  • Failing to serve appropriate notices

All three of these problems could be avoided with a more experienced project team. An inexperienced team may lead to projects being late, over budget and poor quality. Badly managed projects can ultimately lead to a loss of profits. Not ideal in an industry with already low margins.

Another challenge is the poor adoption of technology. Perhaps it is no surprise in an industry with an ageing population that the uptake of technology is poor. However, as the industry begins to take strides to catch up with the rest of the world, we are likely to need professionals who understand how to work with technology.

As the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and robotics increases in the industry, we will need more digitally literate professionals to manage projects. But will the sector’s poor image deter those talented young people from working in construction?

What can be done?

As an industry we need to work harder at improving our image in order to attract young people and talented professionals. This means working with schools, colleges and universities to help advisers understand the possibilities of careers in construction. The old perceptions of people freezing on construction sites, or getting filthy dirty need to change. The industry needs to attract technologists and innovators who will shape the future of construction.

There are a number of government initiatives which should go someway to improve things. Apprenticeship programmes for example will pave the way to attracting and training young people. Projects such as Thames Tideway are insisting that one in 50 workers are apprentices. Clients who make such demands should encourage contractors to sign up to apprenticeship schemes.

As individual businesses, we need to ensure we are doing our best to attract, support and retain the best talent. We need to see our employees as long-term investments and support them to gather experience and training.

What Decipher are doing?

We’re incredibly proud to announce that we have recently been awarded silver status by Investors In People – an achievement only obtained by around 15% of companies who take part in the scheme.
Investors in People is an accreditation structure which looks at how companies are supporting their employees. It examines a number of factors including training and development, communication, recruitment and HR processes.

As a growing business, we’ve implemented some changes over the last few years that have allowed us to ensure we are developing our team. We are now really seeing the benefits.

Our employees are more engaged. They know we care about their future and want them to develop professionally, as a result they care about the business and what happens to the company. It is also helping us recruit the best available talent in the industry.


We’ve seen at Decipher that taking an interest in your employees and helping them to grow and develop is beneficial in the long term. It means spending a little more and dedicating time to learning and development. However, in the long run it will lead to better quality for our clients, and ultimately allow our business to continue to grow.

We need to see more firms in the construction sector looking at their employees as long-term investments. When times get hard, we need to fight the urge to cut training budgets and continue to invest in our teams.

We need to work with government and industry groups to help change the image of the construction sector. For those of us in the industry, we know there is no greater pride than looking up at a building and knowing your contribution helped put it there. We need to convince the graduates of tomorrow that this is an industry that they can succeed in, so we don’t lose them to more popular career choices.


We are always looking for talented, passionate individuals to join our growing team. If you would like to know a bit more about what it is like working for Decipher, visit our careers page.