Can our existing workforce close the construction skills gap?

3 July 2017 | By Ashley Wheaton

Ashley Wheaton, CEO and principal at University College of Estate Management, argues that CPD can play an important role in keeping staff upskilled and able to contribute in today’s fast-moving industry.

Ashley Wheaton

It’s critical in our evolving built environment sector to ensure that we are all well equipped with the most up-to-date industry knowledge, requirements and practices, whatever our role.

Currently, about a fifth of all vacancies in the construction industry remain hard to fill because employers cannot find staff with the right skills, qualifications or experience - and the situation is only set to get worse.

While apprenticeship and higher education programmes are essential for helping individuals join the sector and existing professionals gain further qualifications and promotions, continued professional development (CPD) is imperative if we want to close the skills deficit and future-proof the talent pipeline.

Continuing education is not only key for ensuring companies and individuals are constantly learning and keeping abreast of the latest developments – it’s also important for guaranteeing that skilled talent continues to enter and progress in all areas of the sector.

New technologies are coming in thick and fast and becoming increasingly commonplace: whether it’s drones buzzing over construction sites, artificially intelligent bulldozers, 3D printers churning out new structures – professionals will need to adapt to this ever-changing industry to develop.

CPD provides learning that increases effectiveness in new and current roles, it maintains and enhances existing competencies – and develops additional knowledge and skills. It’s not exclusively about formal courses or qualifications, it also involves development in both technical and non-technical areas, such as management skills, as well as a wide variety of activities from open learning to work experience.

CPD has benefits for both a business and for the individual. Instead of relying entirely on fresh talent entering the sector to fulfil certain roles, CPD can ensure that existing employees are upskilled sufficiently to meet the needs of the business and the wider sector.

Organisations progressing and retaining their existing talent through continuously evaluating, refining and improving the workforce will experience a direct effect on commercial success. While for individuals, the maintenance and development of necessary knowledge and competences help ensure employability for projects by clients - as well as by employers.

The opportunities for the individual are vast. CPD can also provide the skills required to manage staff, develop a business, specialise in certain areas, meet regulatory requirements, use the latest technology, materials and working methods or progress career opportunities.

Without engaging in appropriate CPD, we cannot maintain relevant skills let alone gain the additional knowledge required to adapt to changing business and client needs, fulfil any project, make use of the latest technology and materials, and conform to ever-changing legal and regulatory requirements.

For example, membership of professional industry bodies requires continual learning and the requirements are constantly changing. RICS members must undertake a minimum of 20 hours of CPD each calendar year, and all members must maintain a current understanding of professional standards during a rolling three-year period.

The built environment isn’t just expanding, it’s evolving – and fast. As demand for construction grows and pressure is exerted on our workforce, addressing the skills gap is now more crucial than ever.

Continued professional development could hold the key to ensuring our workforce is prepared for the future requirements of the sector, without solely relying on new recruits to close the gap.


In view of current safety issues can we continue to operate sites with no common written and spoken language. Often a contractual requirement in oil/gas and power contracts and not covered in many of our standard forms as they stem from a period when it wasn't an issue. We could, as certain other countries, ration/licence the work to ensure full or near full employment for the indigenous population.

Surely this should be aired and discussed

David Roberts, 3 July 2017

I've found in Architecture that CPD is something that happens at lunch, when some CPD provider or other needs to flog a product. Other than that, it is something that no employer is prepared to pay for, or encourage, as it only ends up with staff leaving and taking their skills with them. Firms that do a lot of commercial work also take a commercial viewpoint, that they can always buy in more skills when they need them. That they won't have them in existing staff, and that it may be a problem...well it isn't on their radar. Staff of course also know that they'll be paid the same regardless of how much or how little they do, so generally don't bother either.

That said, it hasn't stopped me, as my last study, a PG Dip through CEM (now UCEM), led to me leaving my last job, moving overseas and doubling my income. I'm now saving each year not far off what I was earning after tax before.

I'm now keeping that urge to learn going, and am in the UCEM Masters of Quantity Surveying Course.

It's intriguing for an Architect, as they cover quite a lot that Architects should know but in my experience usually don't.

Charles, 6 July 2017

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