Why the construction skills gap could hamper the government's green recovery

The construction industry is facing a “large and persistent” skills shortage that may hamper its ability to deliver the government’s 10-point plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) study published on 23rd February.


The report, ‘Skills for a green recovery: A call to action for the UK construction sector’, revealed that up to 750,000 construction workers could retire or be on the verge of retiring over the next 15 years.

According to the institute, the industry needs to address two immediate challenges: the growing gap between the number of skilled workers required to build green infrastructure and those already in the workforce; and the task of transforming the values and attitudes of all people and firms so that they are habituated in ‘greening’.

The IPPR has highlighted five key issues that it believes are holding back progress on construction skills:

  • a lack of collective actions — the report claimed that the government is failing at coordinating investment in major infrastructure projects and vocational training and employment, while at a project level, there is a lack of initiative to elevate skills and employment issues in order to be given proper consideration by senior leaders within parent companies and clients
  • an infrastructure investment gap
  • an ageing workforce — 34.6% of workers in the sector are over the age of 50, and the proportion of workers aged below 30 shrunk from 22.8% to 20.3% over the past five years
  • employment insecurity — according to the ONS 2020 statistics, approximately 40% of the construction workforce is self-employed
  • a lack of leadership

The IPPR is urging the government to take several actions to generate a revolution in vocational training, including establish a commission on bogus self-employment in the construction sector, alongside unions and industry bodies; creating a new National Infrastructure and Construction Skills Demand Pipeline led by the DfE; and increasing funding for further education and expand apprenticeship opportunities.

The IPPR also encourages the Construction Leadership Council to create an operational strategy for the sector, with the aim of securing endorsement from the government.

Andrew Shepherd, managing director at modular housebuilder TopHat, said: “It is vital that we look at new ways of engaging a wider and more diverse workforce to the construction industry in order to address skills shortages and meet net zero targets. 

“Offsite manufacturing, where homes are precision-engineered along production lines in a factory, has a huge role to play in creating green skills and can be more appealing to younger workers than traditional construction.”

He added that offsite manufacturing companies have the ability to provide employees with transferable skills that will help them in other manufacturing arenas, as well as reduce emissions produced during construction.

“Working along production lines means our teams are learning how to operate complex machinery and utilise the latest digital technologies,” he continued.

“These skills are transferable to other sectors, such as car and aerospace manufacturing, meaning the sector is providing the economy with the skills needed to grow.”

Leave a comment