Skills shortages and flexible working – how the construction industry is embracing change

In this article, Alex Hurn, Managing Director, discusses with The Business Magazine how flexible working and skills shortages are driving change across the industry.

As the war for talent rages on in a post-COVID era, employers are having to work harder than ever to retain their team members and attract new skills.

Hybrid, flexible, and remote working patterns are becoming the norm as new-found trust and open minds stem from lockdown days.

But how does this look in front-line industries like construction? The Business Magazine explores further with flexible-working advocates Sillence Hurn Building Consultancy…

Employment in construction

The UK construction sector is one of the largest in the country, employing more than 9% of the total workforce. While monthly construction output increased by 1.5% in volume terms in May 2022, skills shortages continue to be a challenge. More than 17% of construction firms reported experiencing worker shortages in April, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Alex Hurn, Managing Director of Sillence Hurn says: “Whether we’re talking to contractors, architects, engineers, developers, lenders, property managers or agents – we are hearing the same message across the industry. The struggle for talent really is real. Unfortunately, we are also experiencing this challenge, but high employment is great to see. It is a sign of growth and with that brings a degree of certainty during a period where there is wider economic uncertainty.

“Companies are also having to up their game, challenging their standard ‘it’ll do’ mentalities and replacing them with improved transparency, inclusivity, and diversity. Perks go some way but ultimately, it’s a strong workplace culture that continues to champion its people and challenge industry norms.”

How are the skills shortages impacting you?

Alex continues: “While not sounding like a hard sales pitch, we are continuing to experience growth and already tracking ahead of predictions for the first quarter of our financial year, which is fantastic. This is testament to our dedicated team and their outstanding contributions. Our pipeline of work is strong, and enquiry levels are progressively increasing, so the drive for talent is stronger than ever before. Whether that’s building surveyors, project managers, monitoring, and quantity surveyors – all of these skills are in demand and we’re not the only ones in need.

“Our biggest challenge is the competitive counteroffers of larger corporates. The brands are well established, their roots deep and they are seasoned at batting away challenger offers like us. I have applied for roles at those firms, some successful others not but it was never for me – what’s that phrase, a square peg in a round hole. That’s where Sillence Hurn started.”

How are you responding to the competition?

Alex explains: “Sillence Hurn was founded off the back of wanting to bring positive change to a conservative industry. Flexible working forms part of that and has been at our core since the beginning, before COVID came along. Building surveying and project management requires an onsite presence often but around that our team have the flexibility to work where they want and when. It allows the team to enjoy more time with their family, join an exercise class during the day if they choose, or - they can be as flexible as they wish.

“It is the mindset that really underpins our successful flexible culture. This work-life way continues to be popular among our team and we’ve recently had some amazing feedback which has really cemented flexible working for the long-term.

“Of course, flexible working isn’t for everyone, which is why we take the time to understand a person’s wants and needs from the first conversation we have. Our definition of an interview is a conversation that builds understanding for both sides. What do they want from a role, need from an employer, how are they motivated? All these factors are key to a person’s enjoyment in employment. We may not offer a lengthy list of perks but by understanding what a person really enjoys during those initial conversations means we can provide a much more personal offer tailored to them.”

What are you seeing in the wider construction industry?

“The approach to flexible working has been varied across our connections – some firms providing a flexible / hybrid offering while others pushing for employees to be back working mostly from the office, but I am yet to come across another building consultancy which provides a fully flexible offering like we do.

“Most recently, construction contractors BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Skanska, and Willmott Dixon announced they are continuing with their employee flexible working agreements following an 18-month trial with Timewise and Build UK ‘Construction Pioneers’ programme. The trial focused on onsite jobs that are typically seen as roles which cannot be done flexibly. All four took part in the trial and all are continuing with flexible working after finding that it produced a number of positive impacts. For workers these impacts included reduced stress, increased well-being, and job satisfaction; and for firms, it enhanced performance and notably contributed to reduced sickness absence rates.”

Alex concluded: “There is no right, or wrong answer and people will continue to be drawn to roles and companies for different reasons but by continuing to be creative and innovate sustainably we can champion better inclusivity across our industry.”

Find out more about current opportunities with Sillence Hurn here.

Read the full interview with Managing Director Alex Hurn and The Business Magazine by clicking the button below.


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