How to overcome the construction skills shortage

31 January 2023

Sarah Chapman of 3M asks how can Europe meet the demand for skilled trade professionals amongst a backdrop of economic crises?

A significant skills gap across Europe’s skilled trades sector threatens to have a devastating and significant impact on the sector for years to come.

Two construction workers on a construction site The working-age labour force is projected to fall from 70 percent to 56-54 percent by 2070, according to the latest Eurostat figures. (Photo: AdobeStock)

Recent appeals from the European Commission are an attempt to reduce the unfilled vacancy rate among the 27 member states, and combat the working-age labour force, which is projected to fall from 70 percent to 56-54 percent by 2070, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

A dwindling talent pool of the next generation of workers has led to a significant shortage of skilled trade workers primed and ready to fill roles that are increasingly vacated by retirements.

This pressure of a slender workforce has been compounded by the cost of living crisis as the sector has felt the full force of inflation, with prominent sectors like Eurozone’s construction sector recently experiencing a tumultuous battle with rising costs.

While the cost-of-living crisis and a struggling European economy is set to influence and potentially worsen the UK’s lack of skilled trade professionals, it has never been more crucial that we change attitudes to the sector to avoid additional economic strain in years to come.

Research from 3M’s 2022 State of Science Index (SOSI), which tracks global attitudes towards science, found that while 91% of people agree that the workforce needs more skilled trade workers, 68% of the respondents say that although they respect people who pursue skilled trades, they would not pursue one themselves.

This attitude needs to change. While many industries also battle with a similar skills shortage, prompting the EU’s commission to label 2023 the “EU year of skills”, it is important that we ensure a robust talent pipeline for the skilled trades industry, as a sector that is often overlooked and misunderstood.

Skilled trade training

Showing students what a career in the skilled trade industry looks like today is imperative to attracting young people to the profession.

It cannot be underestimated how starkly different the skilled trades field looks now than it did 20 years ago.

Manufacturing jobs are now highly technical and blend engineering, IT and traditional manufacturing skills. In fact, contemporary manufacturing roles are increasingly being referred to as “mechatronics” to reflect the technical transformation the vocation has experienced.

Training on a construction site Photo: AdobeStock

Through providing students in secondary education with tangible opportunities to learn first-hand what a career in the skilled trades industry looks like today, we can inspire those that would otherwise have not considered a skilled trade career,

This can ultimately secure a critical pipeline of talent that is so desperately needed across Europe.

For example, 3M’s MAP (Manufacturing and Academic Partnerships) Program invests in programmes that expose students to opportunities in the advanced manufacturing field.

The Program has recently been expanded to outside the US at the company’s manufacturing SuperHub in Wroclaw, Poland.

Through providing school-age students with an awareness of the lucrative and in-demand careers that these vocations can offer, we can help to tackle this industry-wide challenge across Europe.

How to attract talent to construction

It is widely accepted that students from diverse backgrounds are underrepresented in the skilled trades sector.

This is having a profound and very real economic impact on the industry in general. Therefore, it is important that the industry focuses on attracting this underrepresented talent, which can be supported by championing the visibility of positive and relatable role models.

These role models will play an important role in influencing and inspiring future career choices to those who have not benefitted from previous insight into working in the sector.

For example, supported learning experiences like 3M Skilled Trades Scholarship initiative, allow individuals to participate and hear stories from those directly involved in the sector, providing access to the possibilities of a career in the skilled trade sector.

The importance of having access to familiar role models in the classroom cannot be underestimated, as these tangible learning experiences will have a profound effect on inspiring career choice, and ultimately ensuring a robust and diverse talent pipeline for the industry.

Education support for skilled trades

The responsibility for increasing skilled trades professionals not only falls on awareness and education, but also adequate support and incentives.

Providing prospects with a stable and lucrative career pathway will ultimately help to secure a robust talent pipeline that Europe’s trade industry so desperately needs.

We must celebrate and support students who choose to pursue a skilled trade career, and corporates and big business have a key role to play within this.

Benefits like scholarships for those who choose to enter a skilled trade programme or access course will incentivise prospective students to pursue the skilled trades pathway if a clear career trajectory with lucrative rewards is clearly laid out.

For example, 3M’s Skilled Trades Scholarship is celebrating and supporting students who choose to pursue skilled trade occupations, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

It is important to remember that these jobs are valuable and in-demand occupations, and incentives such as scholarships are a necessary means of providing businesses better access to skilled trade workers and simultaneously helping to ensure equitable access to these fruitful careers.

By combining education, awareness, and adequate support, we can help to ensure the sector has a robust talent pipeline for years to come. Perceptions of Europe’s skilled trade industry are in need of a serious revamp, and corporates, big businesses as well as schools and higher education facilities are in the best position to do this.

About the author
Sarah Chapman, technical manager at global science company 3M Sarah Chapman, technical manager at global science company 3M. (Photo: 3M)

Sarah Chapman is a technical manager at global science company 3M and corporation board member at Farnborough College of Technology.

Since joining 3M as an application engineer, she has won multiple awards for her work as a STEM volunteer and diversity role model.

She currently leads an international team of application engineers within the Industrial Tapes and Adhesives Division.

She is a gold level #IamRemarkable trainer and speaks publicly on the importance of diversity to drive innovation.  Sarah chairs the 3M EMEA Technical Women’s Leadership Forum and is the STEM Champion for 3M North Europe. 

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