• Number of people in construction currently ahead of schedule to hit long-term demand but skill shortages are emerging
  • Engineering lagging behind with 48,000 workers short

Research from Randstad, the construction specialist recruiter, has showed that with a projected population of 74.5m in 2050 , the UK will require a construction workforce of 1.02m to support the demands of the country.

Employment growth in the construction industry is forging ahead of the required rate. In order to achieve the required workforce in 2050 the industry needs to grow by 9,650 personnel a year on average (from 2008), with 663,000 needing to be employed currently in order to be on track. With recent employment growth the workforce is now a third (32%) larger than the minimum required with 875,000 employees.

The large increase in employment in the sector may be due to large infrastructure projects such as Crossrail distorting the figures and certainly hides the fact the industry remains short of skilled workers across specific areas.

"the number of unskilled workers isn't an issue, but attracting and retaining highly skilled people is"

Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad Construction, Property and Engineering, said: “The UK lost a lot of skilled construction talent over the course of the downturn as overseas markets offered more work and better pay. Fortunately, the domestic construction environment has improved over the last year as large-scale infrastructure projects have boosted demand.

“This demand has allowed the sector to increase the number of people in the workforce, however, significant skills gaps are still apparent. Put simply the number of unskilled workers aren’t an issue for the industry, but attracting and retaining highly skilled people whether it’s in trades, technical or professions such as surveying is a challenge that still needs to be tackled. The HMRC’s proposed plans to make it more difficult to prove true self-employment could also have a significant impact if it goes ahead.”

This shortfall in skills has also been identified by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Although in contrast to the Randstad analysis CITB research draws from a wider employment pool and includes all employees currently working across both the construction and engineering sectors and includes qualified engineers, architects and office based staff.

This employment analysis combined with a forecast of construction output over the next four years, shows the construction and engineering sector will require 182,000 more staff by 2018 to satisfy demand. Demand which CITB says will be driven largely by housing growth as well as new infrastructure projects, particularly nuclear projects such as Hinkley Point and Horizon.

A Boost Required for Qualified Engineer Numbers

In contrast, the engineering sector is lagging behind the required growth rate to fulfil long-term demand. The number of qualified engineers working in the UK has fallen from 340,000 in 2008 to 317,000 in 2013, leaving the industry 48,000 engineers short of the 365,000 needed if the sector is to grow enough to support the population of 2050.

"fewer graduates and tight immigration rules make it hard for business"

This fall in the number of skilled engineers has been due to fewer graduates moving into the industry and tight immigration rules making it hard for business to employ skilled overseas labour. Sir James Dyson recently lamented onerous immigration rules being to blame for discouraging foreign engineering talent to either move to or to stay in the UK following university and even stated that British firms may be forced to move to locations where “engineers are made welcome”.


The UK as a whole
Overall, the UK is currently 268,000 employees short of the number required across key sectors to satisfy the long term demand of the country.

Despite strong recent employment growth figures, the current workforce needs to be 29,352,000 strong – 0.9% higher than the number of people currently employed in UK – for the country to be on track to achieve the necessary workforce size by 2050.

Previous research from Randstad showed that with the UK population forecast to be 74.5m in 2050 , the number of people employed across the country will need to be 34,772,000 in order to support demand . To reach this level of employment, the number of people in work in the UK would need to grow by 146,502 per year on average from its pre financial crisis level of 28,619,000 in 2008.

Fulfilment key for staff retention and attraction
The industries that are ahead of schedule in terms of workforce size are also the industries with above average levels of professional fulfilment among employees.

The workforces of the construction sector and IT workforce are some of the most fulfilled in the UK. Two thirds of construction workers (66%) say they are fulfilled at work, while 73% of IT professionals say the same.

Owen Goodhead, said: “If a workforce feels professionally fulfilled then retention rates are more likely to be higher. Similarly, industries with high levels of professional fulfilment will be more attractive to those yet to choose a career path. If the construction and engineering sector is to not only continue growth but also attract skilled workers to return to the UK over the coming decades then maximising professional fulfilment will be as important a ensuring a good migration balance.”     


  1. 2050 population projection of 74.5m from Eurostat (a 21% rise compared to 61.3m in 2008)
  2. Based on the construction workforce making up 2.21% of the overall workforce (proportion of workforce in 2008)
  3. http://www.citb.co.uk/research/construction-skills-network/uk/  
  4. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/457705/Sir-James-Dyson-warns-David-Cameron-Immigration-rules-are-killing-engineering-in-Britain
  5. ONS – Number employed in the UK aged 16-64 = 29,084,000
  6. 2050 population projection of 74.5m from Eurostat (a 21% rise compared to 61.3m in 2008)
  7. This is based on a 21% rise in the number of those employed in 2008 (28.6m)