1.0 Introduction

Since 2013 the UK construction industry has experienced a period of steady growth and currently contributes to over 6% of the UK economy total. In order for the UK construction industry to be sustainable and meet future industry needs in both the public and private sectors it requires a large skilled labour force to meet demand. It is believed that the supply of skilled workers will not be able to meet future demands of the industry. Brian Berry, Chief Executive, of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) stated “Skills shortages are sky rocketing and it begs the question, who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for” (Cox, 2018). The purpose of this research to identify the causes for the construction skills shortage within the UK and what procedures are already in place to account for this. This research highlights the causes of the skills shortage within the UK construction industry and possible solutions.

1.2 Research Question

The main question for this research can be simplified as:
“What are the causes of the construction skills shortage in the UK?”

By restricting the research to the UK the author can form a valuable insight in to the economic, social and environmental conditioning of the industry within the UK.

1.3 Aims and Objectives

Based on the above research question, the overall aim of this study is to identify and potentially find ways to overcome the construction skills shortage in the UK. Accordingly, the following objectives will need to be met:

  • Identify through literature what influences construction skills shortages in the UK.
  • Further analysis of secondary data about trends to identify primary data questions.
  • Triangulating findings as results and discussing in a bid to provide potential short and long term solutions.

1.4 Literature review

The construction industry contributes to 6% of the UK total economy and equates to over £100 billion each year. Since 2013 the construction industry in the UK has been in a period of prolonged growth.  In Q3 2018 there were 2.4 million construction industry jobs in the UK which equates to 6.8% of all jobs in the UK (Office of National Statistics, 2018). To maintain this continued growth, the industry ability to attract skilled labour to complete and deliver infrastructure projects is vital (Rolfe and Hudson-Sharp, 2016).

The UK construction Industry is currently experiencing a skills shortage, this was highlighted in a recent report published by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) that indicates that significant skills shortage is restricting the sectors economic growth (RICS, 2015). The current workforce has an aging demographic with 700,000 expected to retire within the next 10 years which is leading to increased pressures to attract and retain appropriately skilled workers. The problem is deep routed within the industry due to cylindrical nature of the industry which results in insecure job opportunities from an industry that has proven to be risk adverse (Clack, 2017). The industry is heavily reliant upon its workforce and the skills shortages invariably affect the client’s requirements in terms of time, cost and quality (Chan and Dainty, 2007).

Extensive research has been carried out by both academics, and professional bodies (Chan & Dainty, 2007), (Chartered Institute of Building, 2015), (Farmer, 2016). The mentioned literature draws unanimous conclusions as to the potential reason for the construction industries skills shortage including;

  • The unique nature of the industry
  • Stagnating productivity
  • Aging population
  • Poor image
  • Fluctuations in output due to external economic trends

Mackenzie, et al (2000), agrees with the literature mentioned, and highlights the following additional issues:

  • The construction   markets cyclical   nature
  • The rise of self-employment
  • The introduction of new technologies requiring new skills
  • A flexible labour market
  • Training costs


The impact of Brexit has to be considered when researching the future skills shortage in the UK. Many UK construction forms currently use foreign EU labour to fill the pre-existing gaps in the skilled labour market. Between 1998 and 2016 foreign born employment in the UK construction increased from 4.1% to 12% which equates to an additional 252,000 people (CIOB, 2019). Post-Brexit the new relationship negotiated with the EU may prevent the construction industry form being able to source the suitable labour with the correct skill set. Tighter regulation regarding the freedom of movement between EU that does not consider the particular employment dynamics of specific industries will lead to constraints on both construction and infrastructure activity in the UK, particularly if urgent action is not taken to solve the pre-existing skills shortage (Laing O’rourke, 2017). The current skilled EU migrant labour only a short-term solution (Metcalf et al., 2010), and a longer-term solution regardless of the impact of Brexit need to be augmented to augment the training, education and competence of indigenous workers (Hilling, 2015).

2.0 Methodology

The following research is based on a realism philosophy and it takes the form of mixed exploratory research. This method utilises a combination of primary and secondary sources, as well as qualitative and quantitative data. This research format has been recommended for engineering-related studies (Borrego, et al., 2009). In particular, the sequential exploratory research method will be used due to its two-phase design the initial step involves the collection of qualitative data followed by quantitative data collection and analysis (Mason, Augustyn, and Seakhoa‐King, 2010).

The first step allows the researcher to understand and explore the construction skills crisis in depth through the qualitative data collection with a defined number of samples, hence identifying key themes. In addition, this will enable the researcher to develop appropriate research techniques and gather quantitative data with high accuracy in order to describe the relationships observed in the qualitative data (Fielding, 2012).

In addition, the exploratory research is useful for this study as it helps in determining the best selection techniques, data-collection method, and research design (Kong, Mohd Yaacob, and Mohd Ariffin, 2018). The research will rely heavily on the data collected through the designed questionnaire. Questionnaires are typically used in survey situations and This research will incorporate a predefined series of questions within a questionnaire as the quantitative data collection tool to gather the and views and perceptions of construction industry professionals. Questionnaires are proven to be a convenient way of collecting comparable data from a large number of individuals (Mathers et. al., 2007, p.20) and a highly effective method of data collection (Bird, 2009).

Mason, Augustyn, and Seakhoa‐King (2010), state that sequential exploratory design’s primary objective is to identify variables which are then used to develop a classification for testing as well as an instrument of study especially survey. For instance, this research design is vital for this study given that it will enable the researcher to use information from secondary sources such as articles, journals and to formulate an appropriate questionnaire to be administered to a large sample of construction industry stakeholders for data collection.

Sequential exploratory design is founded upon triangulation methodology. Triangulation was popularised by Denzig (1978) and emphasises the need for methods within a research to check for inconsistencies. While this method was originally devised for social sciences, researchers have extended its application for construction studies (Love, et al., 2002). Reflecting the mixed nature of this study, it uses a combination of deductive approaches in the initial part, backed by opinion-based inductive approaches in the surveys (Kelly, 2004, p. 1177).Through triangulation, the data collected is validated by cross-verification; several research methods are employed on the same phenomenon; multiple methods, theories, observers, and empirical materials are combined (Fielding, 2012). This is essential for this study as it will help in overcoming the intrinsic biases or weakness as well as the problems which emanate from single-theory, single-observer, and single-method studies. In this regard, the sequential exploratory research design through triangulation will increase the validity and credibility of the results. The accuracy of judgement is increased when the researcher both collects and evaluates various data sets on the same research area (Jick, 1979). Some of the challenges with the sequential exploratory research is that even though it enables the researcher to develop a deep understanding of the data collected, the time involved is considerable because of the quantity of data involved. (Cameron, 2009). Nonetheless, it remains the best fit method for this research since this challenge can be addressed through proper scheduling of the research period.


3.0 Ethics

The Oxford English Dictionary (2019) defines ethics as “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”.

Prior to the collecting of any primary data an approval form will be submitted to Leeds Beckett university following the universities ethics guidelines. Primary data will not be collected until approval has been granted by the university.

4.0 Structure

This paper will take form of chapters in order to structure the various aspects which are related to this topic. The following is an outline of the structure;

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Chapter 3: Research

Chapter 4: Data Collection and Analysis

Chapter 5: Conclusions and Recommendation


Cameron, R., 2009. A sequential mixed model research design: Design, analytical and display issues. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches3(2), pp.140-152.

Clack, A. (2017). Skills shortage and Brexit. [online] Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Available at: https://www.ice.org.uk/news-and-insight/the-infrastructure-blog/april-2017/skills-shortage-and-brexit [Accessed 4 Nov. 2019].

Cox, J. (2018). UK construction worker shortage hits record, trade association warns. [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-construction-worker-shortage-recruitment-brexit-eu-nationals-citizens-europe-trade-association-a8172466.html [Accessed 4 Nov. 2019].

CIOB (2019) ‘Shortage occupations in construction: A cross-industry research report’, (January). Available at: https://policy.ciob.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Shortage-Occupations-in-Construction-A-cross-industry-research-report-January-2019.pdf.

Chan, P. and Dainty, A. (2007) Resolving the UK construction Skills Crisis: A Critical Perspective on the Research and Policy Agenda. Construction Management and Economic. Vol. 25, No. 4, pp.375-386.

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S., (2018). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc.

Fielding, N.G., (2012). Triangulation and mixed methods designs: Data integration with new research technologies. Journal of Mixed Methods Research6(2), pp.124-136.

Jick, T. (1979). Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Methods: Triangulation in Action. Administrative Science Quarterly, [online] 24(4), p.602. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c81d/7ec5f4a7657e7ca5e59f9855cbdbad1b0d65.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2019].

Laing O’rourke (2017) ‘a Ten-Point Plan To Overcome the UK’s Construction’.

Mathers, N, Fox, N. and Hunn, A. (2007) Surveys and Questionnaires, The NIHR Research Design Service For Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands: Yorkshire, National Institute for Health Research. Available via: https://www.rds-yh.nihr.ac.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2013/05/12_Surveys_and_Questionnaires_Revision_2009.pdf [Accessed: October, 2019].

Metcalf, D., Coyle, D., Ruhs, M., Wadsworth, J. and Wilson, R. (2010), “Skills shortage sensible: review of methodology, migration advisory committee”, available at: www.gov.uk/ government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/343446/MAC_Methodology_ report.pdf [accessed November 2019].

Office of National Statistics (2018) ‘Construction Industry: Statistics and policy’, House of Commons Library, (01432), pp. 1–13.

(RICS) Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (2015) Skills Shortages and Financial Constraints Impede Growth but Demand Pipeline Remains Strong. Available via: http://www.rics.org/Global/RICS UK Construction market survey Q4-2015.pdf [Accessed: October, 2019].

Rolfe, H. and Hudson-Sharp, N. (2016) The Impact of Free Movement on the Labour Market: Case Studies on Hospitality, Food Processing and Construction, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pp.24-25. Available via: http://www.niesr.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Free%20movement%20- %20Final%20report.pdf [Accessed: October, 2019].

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