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The Reasons Behind the Construction Labor Shortage in the UK

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  • The UK construction industry faces an acute shortage of skilled laborers due to Brexit, an aging workforce, and inadequate training and apprenticeship programs.
  • Low wages and poor working conditions also contribute to the labor shortage.
  • Women comprise only 14% of the industry’s workforce, limiting its potential labor pool.
  • Online recruitment, robotic process automation, and augmented reality are helping to address the labor shortage.

Labor shortages are problematic for any industry. It can lead to reduced production, higher costs for recruitment and training, and slower growth. The UK is experiencing a labor shortage, especially in the construction industry. Here’s what you need to know about it.

The UK Construction Industry Labor Shortage

The UK construction industry is facing an acute shortage of skilled laborers. Industry experts estimate that the industry must recruit nearly 36,000 new workers annually to keep up with demand. However, according to the latest government statistics, only 24,000 new entrants are joining the sector annually, leaving a gap of over 10,000 workers. The construction labor shortage poses significant challenges for the industry, including rising costs, project delays, and quality concerns. Here are the reasons behind the construction labor shortage in the UK and possible solutions to address it.


Brexit has been one of the most prominent factors contributing to the construction labor shortage in the UK. During the past decade, the industry experienced significant growth powered by the EU’s influx of skilled immigrant workers.

However, since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the number of EU citizens coming to work in the UK has fallen by 17%, resulting in a significant labor shortfall. This shift was compounded by the introduction of new immigration laws that have made working in the construction industry more challenging for non-UK citizens.

Construction workers in the field

The Aging Workforce

According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), over 32% of the construction workforce across the UK is aged 50 or over. This trend is concerning because these workers are expected to retire soon, leaving a significant labor gap in the industry. While new entrants will fill some of these vacancies, the CITB predicts that nearly two-thirds will be vacant by 2026, creating an enormous challenge for the industry.

Inadequate Training and Apprenticeship Programs

Lack of investment in training and apprenticeship programs has been a persistent issue in the UK construction industry. The CITB reports that only 8% of firms in the sector invest more than 2% of their payroll in staff training.

Additionally, since the government introduced the apprenticeship levy in 2017, there has been a decline in the number of new apprenticeships created, especially in smaller firms. The lack of training and apprenticeship opportunities has led to a lack of skilled labor to fill the current gap.

Low Wages and Poor Working Conditions

Low wages and poor working conditions are also significant factors contributing to the labor shortage in the UK construction industry. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average hourly wage in the industry is £11, which the Living Wage Foundation claims is insufficient to cover the basic living costs. Poor working conditions regarding safety, job security, and lack of career progression encourage workers to consider other industries that offer better remuneration and work-life balance.

The Gender Divide

The construction industry in the UK has historically been male-dominated, with just a tiny percentage of women working there. According to the CITB, women comprise just 14% of the industry’s workforce, limiting the industry’s potential labor pool.

Furthermore, the environment and culture make it difficult for women to advance in their careers, leading to lower retention rates. Addressing the gender divide in the industry will require a cultural shift and more significant investment in gender diversity initiatives to close the gender pay gap and improve working conditions for women.

How Technology is Helping Deal With the Problem

Thankfully, the sector is turning to technology to help address the labor shortage in the UK construction industry. Here’s how some technologies are helping deal with the labor shortage.

Applicants in line

Online Recruitment

Accessibility is crucial if the shortage is to be dealt with. Online construction recruitment agencies are helping to reduce the time and cost of recruiting new staff. By leveraging big data, AI-based tools, and predictive analytics, these platforms can quickly match employers with suitable candidates for their roles. Also, technology like video interviewing is making recruitment faster and more efficient.

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is another technology that can help address the labor shortage in the UK construction industry. RPA-powered robots can accurately and efficiently perform mundane and repetitive tasks, such as welding, painting, drilling, or laying bricks. This technology allows businesses to reduce their reliance on human labor and increase productivity.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is also helping to bridge the labor gap in the UK construction industry. This technology allows workers to access real-time guidance and instructions through their mobile devices, eliminating the need for additional human support. AR can also improve safety by providing virtual barriers between workers and hazardous areas.

The UK construction industry has been facing a labor shortage for some time. Brexit and the aging workforce are two of the most prominent factors contributing to this shortage. Thankfully, technology is helping to address the labor shortage by making recruitment easier, improving safety, and automating mundane tasks. If these technologies are implemented correctly, and businesses invest in training and apprenticeship programs, the labor shortage can be reduced significantly.

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