Digging deep to keep the people who have the skills to build

With increasing work to be done and projects that need completing across construction and infrastructure, we’ve started to dig deeper into why people leave the industry with the aim of recognising and helping to address these issues.

This research aims to enable employers and industry stakeholders to create more supportive and fulfilling work environments, resulting in improved employee retention and a stronger construction and infrastructure sector.

What we know already:

Staff retention in the residential construction industry is a serious pain point. Recent figures show that out of 85k employees coming into the sector, 55k leave within two years, which is 65%.  There are several potential factors influencing retention issues:

  • Generational shifts – young people have different expectations and aspirations towards their job, skills training, pay/conditions and progression than previous generations.
  • The culture in construction can be contentious and doesn’t always support diversity.
  • Training and advancement are slowing, and workers are losing sight of career/job progression.
  • Higher turnover of workers erodes the sense of ‘mateship’, teamwork and support at work. Under these conditions, engagement with work and the employer is slipping.
  • Poor leadership and lack of retention strategies.

Other research trends include:

(Building Talent Foundation 2021)

  • The results of the inaugural showed that out of all tradespeople working on residential construction job sites, 35% are thinking about another job, mainly due to a lack of career advancement, training, and development. Reasons for staying include opportunities for career advancement, training, learning new skills, their boss treating them well, and feeling valued and respected at work.
  • The results of another recent Construction Workers Survey conducted by Building Talent Foundation (BTF) showed that almost one-third (31%) of construction workers say they are considering leaving their jobs because of the lack of skills development and career advancement.
  • Another key factor in staying or quitting is how people’s immediate supervisor treats them. That’s the second top reason to stay and the third top reason to leave. Close to half of respondents (45%) cite their boss’s treatment of them as a reason for sticking with their current jobs—16 percentage points higher than those who say pay and benefits. Meanwhile, 15% cite their boss’s treatment as a reason for quitting.
  • The workers most at risk of leaving are those with only one to five years of experience.
  • Women are also at risk of leaving. Over a quarter (27%) of women report not engaging with their work, compared to less than a fifth (19%) of men.
  • The main reasons construction workers stay are opportunities to develop their skills and careers.

Our research findings:

  • Company culture is crucial in retaining staff. Employers play a significant role in setting the tone and can foster positive or negative cultures. Addressing negative culture is essential, even if it disrupts a performing team or threatens the business. Embracing diversity requires building certain fundamentals in a business to provide a supportive environment for all employees.
  • Clear and enforced guidelines and standards are lacking in the industry, allowing employers to operate based on their own preferences. This ambiguity makes it difficult for workers to identify the standards their employers should meet, affecting areas such as remuneration, support for studies, worker reviews/progress, and health & safety. Establishing industry-wide guidelines can improve employee satisfaction and retention.
  • Apprentices can feel conflicted when the practices and expectations they learn do not align with the standards observed on the construction site. This mismatch can lead to self-doubt, mistrust, and disrespect for the industry. Builders in this situation may be more likely to change jobs or pursue self-employment to align their work with their personal goals and values.
  • Apprentices often leave due to disillusionment with their employer, the industry’s culture, or the industry. While recruitment efforts may initially attract young people to the industry, if the industry fails to deliver on its promises, retaining them becomes a challenge.
  • Builders may leave for various reasons, including a desire for change or increased income after completing their apprenticeships. They may also feel limited or uncertain about future career prospects. Considering the physical toll construction work takes, they may explore alternative options to extend their working lives or explore new areas.
  • Addressing staff retention requires a comprehensive approach. While the industry can provide more support for construction workers, employers must also be a focal point. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the construction industry lack proper business and people management skills. Effecting meaningful change requires addressing these knowledge and behaviour gaps among employers.