How can we achieve net-zero in the face of the construction skills crisis?

The UK still has a long way to go to reach its net-zero goals there’s no doubt about that. And most people in the construction sector are aware of the current skills shortage and the challenges that come with that. But with a lot of work ahead and fewer and fewer construction workers to do it, are we missing the important link between these two crises?

The construction skills crisis

The challenges the construction industry is facing at the moment are twofold. Firstly, the current workforce is ageing and the proportion of UK construction workers aged over 50 now comes in at a massive 35% of the total workforce. Not only that, but a mere 20% are aged under 30, and statistics show that the workforce has been an ageing one since at least the 1980s.

Secondly, the construction industry is struggling to recruit new talent or to tempt Gen-Z workers into a career in the sector. Recent research has shown that Gen-Z are turning their backs on the idea of working in the construction industry for a myriad of reasons, including the perception that it’s ‘dangerous’, ‘dirty’ and ‘male-dominated’. 

The result of this tricky combination is that the construction industry is losing workers at a quickening rate, and doesn’t have a pipeline of skilled workers to replace these empty roles.

The net-zero impact

The government has set out a target of 2050, by which point the UK must have reached net-zero carbon emissions. However, it hasn’t been very forthcoming so far in the plans that back-up how they intend to achieve that. And the construction skills crisis certainly threatens the viability of reaching the goal in time.

A large proportion of the work required in order to reach net-zero emissions is work that will need to be done by construction workers, from building clean transport and energy infrastructure, to insulating homes. Even just the task of making homes more energy efficient is a fairly mammoth one, and research estimates that it will create 200,000 new jobs.

And while new jobs are normally welcome news, it’s no good if there aren’t enough workers to fill them.

How to address the crisis

With research showing that a large majority (62%) of young people are not only aware of the climate emergency but also engaged with it, it’s a positive sign that the buy-in for the UK’s net-zero goals is already there. The next challenge therefore, is getting Gen Z to buy into the construction industry.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 3 of those surveyed see the construction sector as one that they can work in to address our climate crisis. While it may be true that the construction industry is responsible for 38% of carbon emissions, that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid a career in it. If anything, it means that it’s an area where a big difference stands to be made. Showing Gen-Z workers that the construction industry is invested in sustainability is step 1 in getting more workers into the sector. At Dice, we regularly champion sustainability and MMC, and we try to work at least one sustainable element into every project we work on.

Step 2 is making sure that accessibility and education aren’t further roadblocks on the journey. While the traditional route for a lot of workers (engineers, architects, planning consultants) involves going to university and gaining a degree, this has the possibility to exclude people for whom university may not be a viable or desirable option. 

By offering apprenticeships, consultancies like ours can help to train the next generation of construction professionals and to create a more diverse workforce. A diverse workforce built to tackle the challenges of the future.


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