The UK is waking up to what construction has known for some time - skills shortage

Christine Townley, Construction Youth Trust

With an ageing workforce the sector is losing skilled workers at an alarming rate, says Construction Youth Trust director Christine Townley.

This is at a time when significant projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel, Crossrail, Hs2 and the Swansea Tidal barrage are either in the pipeline or already being delivered and the industry should attract the best and brightest.

There is a quick fix, I suggest, for helping stem those shortages. There are up to 50,000 young people who have already shown an interest in construction and are on full time built environment courses in further education colleges. What they don’t have is an employer.

The sector must rally to give a helping hand to those students to give them a job and a meaningful career.

Not enough young people see construction as for them. The reasons are moribund but obvious. Young people lack the knowledge, the skills and the experience to identify and access opportunities.

"It’s really important that we encourage more girls to see STEM professions as for them - not helped by the fact that only half of state schools have girls studying physics A level."

The industry still has a poor reputation for image and diversity and young people are influenced by peers and parents over careers choices.

But most alarmingly it is the schools and colleges which lack the knowledge to offer careers advice and deliver a curriculum that reflects real labour market need.

Teachers can’t be expected to be experts on every sector which is why industry needs to collaborate and sell construction into schools. Many firms do great work in schools that’s for sure. But it still is not joined up enough.

Working in partnership to deliver careers advice is essential; and delivering advice to young people in a way that they can relate to means they just might think a career in construction be for them.

We at Construction Youth Trust and our industry supporters are helping to raise awareness of the opportunities among young men and women. We do this by running free courses through our Budding Builders and Budding Brunels programmes and by making the links between the industry and schools.

Our Budding Brunels programme works with young people in Years 12 and 13 to help them understand the wonderful opportunities within the professions in construction. 30%
of the students who join our Brunels courses are girls who have self-selected themselves onto the programme.

It’s really important that we encourage more girls to see STEM professions as for them - not helped by the fact that only half of state schools have girls studying physics A level.

So my rallying cry is for a joined up approach to careers advice to help young people see the wealth of opportunity construction offers now and in the future. Help us to help them! 

Christine Townley is chief executive of the Construction Youth Trust 


I suggest that the construction looks at oil and mining industries which attract far better educated, worldly, often fitter and more cosmopolitan people. The Head of Exploration for a top mining company with a B.Sc and doctorate from Imperial told me he spoke 5-6 languages: how many construction chiefs have that sort of worldly capability? Too much construction has been reduced to arguments over contracts by aggressive, often thuggish and not particularly bright people. The ability to win contractual arguments by often browbeating people has often been a more important skill than possessing technical ability. While quantity surveyors are so dominant in contracting why should highly educated engineers join these firms?