Older workers crucial to curbing construction industry skills gap, but not a substitute for investing in training
December 20, 2015
The world’s population is ageing rapidly and with profound results. In response to these changes, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has launched a report exploring the effects of the ageing population on the construction industry and outlined how the sector can adapt to meet some of the challenges.
‘Exploring the impact of the ageing population on the workforce and built environment’ is the second report from the CIOB to study the effects of the ageing population. Six years on from the first study, the research highlights the crucial role the built environment has to play in terms of improving the lives of older people.
In a survey of nearly 1,000 CIOB members, responses indicate that despite legislative changes to improve recognition of the ageing population and combat workplace discrimination, awareness of the ageing population and its influence on the built environment has slumped - when compared with the findings from the CIOB’s first report.
The research finds that the built environment has a crucial role to play in terms of improving the lives of older people through measures designed to enhance the accessibility and liveability of buildings. Retaining ageing workers’ knowledge and skills is also crucial, and the report sends a clear message to policymakers and industry leaders: to be successful, construction needs to see far greater investment and recognition of ageing workers.
With 19% of the construction workforce set to retire in the next five to ten years, the report finds that employers need to overcome stereotypes and repurpose, where necessary, job descriptions to attract and, most importantly, retain older workers. However, the CIOB is clear that this not be considered a substitute for investing in training, and should work hand-in-hand to help alleviate the ongoing skills crisis.
Whilst 57% of respondents acknowledged that it was ‘very important’ to retain ageing workers, this was not reflected in the number of respondents who stated that their workplace had measures such as flexible working, succession planning, mid-life career reviews or retirement planning designed to encourage an extension to longer working lives.
The benefits of mentoring are well documented. However, despite the overwhelming majority of respondents acknowledging this, only 63% confirmed that this measure was a regular feature in the workplace. Respondents pointed towards the difficulties obtaining high-calibre staff to deliver and participate in such schemes. Crucially, the report suggests that more needs to be done to make better use of ageing workers’ expertise and skills, and use this to help upskill younger counterparts.
Bridget Bartlett, Deputy Chief Executive of the CIOB said: “The findings from this report indicate that the impact of the ageing population and the role of the ageing workforce have slipped down the agenda.
“However, if construction is to meet the skills crisis it faces and fill the 224,000 vacancies needed by 2019, employers should look to take additional steps to overcome the skills shortages they incur by reaching out to older workers. There is a huge opportunity to showcase to both young and old members of the workforce that construction isn’t all hard hats and hi-vis and that off-site opportunities are aplenty. We demand technical skills as much as manual skills.
“Employers must also recognise the skills of their existing workers and put in measures such as flexible working, career reviews or even retirement planning to encourage longer working lives. As our own research tells us, skills shortages in construction are compounded by those entering the industry not being suitably qualified for the position. We should take this opportunity to use older workers to tap into their skills and knowledge and ensure they are passed onto the next generation.”