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Encouraging collaboration and education to close the European skills gap

Carsten Frantzen, Senior Director Construction EMEA

It’s no secret that the construction sector is experiencing a severe skills shortage across Europe. Digitalisation, the transition towards a greener economy and demographic changes have all increased this gap. According to the Skills for Jobs Database by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at least 80 million workers in Europe are mismatched in terms of qualifications.  With the UK’s exit from the European Union set for the 31st October, existing issues are amplified by the uncertainty of labour flow across Europe. It has therefore never been more pressing to find a practical solution.

The skills gap in the construction industry is fuelled by two main factors. The first is that the industry is failing to recruit, particularly from the younger demographic, and this is largely due to misconception; the industry is seen as old-fashioned and labour-intensive, rather than digitally adept and technology based. The second related factor is education, or lack thereof. There is a distinct absence of education schemes that are dedicated to construction and how technological advances are revolutionising the industry. Encouraging younger generations to pursue a career in construction by highlighting its modern relevance is key to closing the skills gap.

The construction sector now calls for a new generation of professionals who are able to apply and develop digital skills to meet future demands. However, it won’t be an easy search, as such people are in short supply generally, not just within our sector. A recent European Commission conference revealed that 44 per cent of the adult population in Europe either have low or no digital skills.

The chronic shortage of skilled manpower is impacting the industry at all levels. Bricklayers and carpenters top the list, but demand for skilled plumbers, electricians and plasterers is also outstripping supply. This is set to have a detrimental impact on major construction projects throughout Europe, from the Grand Paris Express to London’s Crossrail – not to mention the UK’s commitment to build 300,000 homes a year   or the numerous infrastructure repair and maintenance projects currently taking place across Europe. The need for abundant skilled workers has never been greater.

So, what is the industry’s plan to fulfil this gap in the workforce? At Topcon, we believe that education and collaboration are key. Working together to raise awareness of the careers available and promote construction as modern, innovative and forward-thinking will be central to breaking down traditional perceptions and facilitating a healthy future for the industry.

We have long recognised the importance of supplying education institutions with the most advanced positioning equipment – it’s essential that education establishments have access to the technology that is being used on site right now. In 2006, we started the Topcon Educational Partnership Program (EPP), an initiative to provide establishments with affordable state-of-the-art equipment to enable students to become familiar with the latest positioning innovations as early as possible. Our European retail companies and dealer network provide training to the institutions at discounted rates to broaden uptake. In the UK, we have partnered with the Class of Your Own (COYO), an award-winning consultancy focused on digital built environment education to inspire the next generation of design, engineering and construction professionals. Through our partnership with COYO, we help students build valuable skills, while encouraging them to take responsibility for their role within a project.

Investing in employees is a very important part of retaining a skilled workforce at all levels. Through our Global Leadership Development Programme, we provide comprehensive leadership training for all of our managers. The programme aims to develop and promote employees, encouraging Topcon representatives to strive for success and fulfil their potential. This not only helps to retain staff, but also instils them with knowledge about the latest strategies, techniques and innovations, while ensuring they understand business priorities, all with digital application front of mind.

Unless we take action now, the skills gap across Europe stands no chance of narrowing. Measures need to be put in place to ensure that we have a skilled workforce that is able to keep up with the increasing demands presented by construction projects across Europe. As a construction technology provider, we feel we have an invaluable contribution to make when it comes to tackling the skills shortage; emerging innovations that aid and encourage smart working will have an enormous role to play. We can’t do this alone, though – engaging with other leaders in the industry as well as educational establishments is the only way forward if we’re to attract the best talent and face the challenges set out before us…

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