5 major challenges in the construction industry

The construction industry is one of the largest sectors in the UK economy contributing almost £90 billion (6.7%), comprising of over 280,000 businesses and covering some 2.93 million jobs.

Construction companies have had a difficult few years, with uncertainty around Brexit, building safety concerns and now COVID-19. Below we explore the 5 major challenges affecting the industry in 2020 and why choosing Manpower as your industry expert can overcome these trials and deliver powerful results.

1) Aging workforce and skills shortages

Skills shortages have been a major issue in the construction industry for the last few years. According to research by the UoD (2019) the highest proportion of workers in house building, are aged 45–54 years, while the second largest age group, totalling 22%, comprises those aged 35–50 years.

Many of these employees will soon retire and attracting new, younger talent has proven to be difficult. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB, 2018) found that the overall appeal of the construction industry as a career option had fallen to only ‘4 out of 10 among 14 to 19 year olds’ and that same year, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) also reported a 14.6% fall in construction apprenticeship numbers.

The decrease in younger talent over the years has had a serious effect on the industry, as essential trade skills are lost once employees retire. This is a problem that the industry has faced repeatedly, widely documented as being due to an image problem of what it is like to work in construction amongst younger people. The Construction 2025 report puts its perceived low image down to lack of gender diversity, long hours, low pay and little job security.

2) Health and Safety

Another big challenge within the sector is the concerns around health and safety and how the lack of properly trained employees can result in significant business impacts, such as a negative industry image and loss of substantial funds.According to HSE construction statistics from 2019, construction is the sector leading with the highest number of health and safety related accidents within the UK. This is due to lack of equipment compliance, training and safety processes and procedures. The labour Force Survey statistics also showed that same year, younger workers aged 16–24 have a substantially higher risk of workplace injury (37% higher) than older employees.

There are many areas of health and safety compliance that need to be maintained from ongoing site training, up to date PPE to regular compliance checks. Many construction companies rely on managing these processes manually and not using digitalised systems, meaning training and regular maintenance checks can be missed making the business vulnerable to costly errors.  For example, if businesses accidentally failed to renew a mandatory Health & Safety accreditation, they could be slapped with heavy fines by regulatory authorities.

3) Gender diversity in the workforce

With 99% of workers on building sites estimated to be men (CIF, 2018), there has been an ongoing stereotype that the construction industry is the not the right place for women to thrive in. The typical perception of a construction site is one that is filled with macho-men conducting building works who are bigger and stronger than women and those who are naturally drawn to physical work.

However, this could not be more outdated. There are a huge variety of opportunities in the industry, from construction software to design and even architecture. It is not necessary for employees to only work on the construction elements themselves in order to be involved.

So, why are there so few women in the industry and what can organisations do about this? One way to overcome this is through advertising. As an industry, there is a need to break the stigma ‘construction is for men’. The problem lies in the current perception of the industry, as well as course providers and companies failing to attract women.

When advertising for construction roles, it’s not only the pictures and videos that may be gender specific but also the language used in the role descriptions too. It is important for organisations to realise this and find recruitment partners who can diversify their workforce by advertising using the right tone of voice and by demonstrating the variety of roles there are within the industry.

4) Technology adoption

While technological innovation is quickly moving forward, the construction sector is falling behind – with productivity levels lagging behind every other industry sector in the country (Plangrid, 2018). The government is already recognising this with a number of initiatives launched last year aiming to help the sector adopt newer technologies and increase productivity levels.

However, many construction businesses struggle to invest or implement new technology so it’s not surprising that a global report from McKinsey Globe Institute recognised construction as the second least digitalised sector in the world.

Although the construction sector may deem there is not much benefit in implementing technological changes in a physical environment, embracing digital technology delivers multiple secondary benefits in construction. These benefits include more efficient use of materials, improved health and safety, safer working environments and a more efficient recruitment processes.

5) Worker productivity

Within the construction industry, a high level of employee productivity is critical for completing projects in a timely manner. The labour shortage the construction industry faces is a direct cause of falling productivity levels. As the older generation begins to retire, the younger less experienced workforce is left to take their place. With construction projects becoming more complex and demand for projects remaining high, finding and retaining skilled workers is essential (Onsite, 2019).

Research has confirmed many reasons for poor performance, including dependence on public-sector demand, inadequate onboarding processes, and underinvestment in skills development. While fixing the labour shortage in the UK construction industry is no easy task, your workers cannot be more productive without the right type of skills to do so.

At Manpower we can help find candidates with the right skills for your organisation – those who will fit in with your company culture and can be retained with the right skills and training, reducing overall absenteeism.


Manpower combines on-the-ground presence in 75 locations across our Group of companies in the UK, with extensive digital capabilities and an intelligence-led approach. This enables us to connect with millions of candidates across the UK and meet the needs of thousands of employers every year. Technology has opened a new world of possibilities for everyone. But how we unleash this potential is what sets us apart.

Our high-tech, high-touch approach allows us to give employers better access to hard to source talent, overcoming issues such as an aging workforce, productivity levels and lack of gender diversity. To find out how we create better matches between companies and employees, visit our website at manpower.co.uk/.