Fighting the skilled labour shortage in UK construction with AR tools
The construction sector is critical to the health of the UK economy, representing just over 6% of GDP. The sector is also vital to the proposed ‘levelling up’ agenda, long touted as a priority of the UK government. But the sector has been particularly hard hit by a skilled labour shortage in the UK.
Recent developments have exacerbated the construction industry shortages. However, the underlying problems faced by the sector are familiar. Shortages of skilled workers have been reported regularly since the Great Recession in 2008.
Although the development of the skilled labour shortage in the UK is a complex issue, construction firms can make things easier. New technologies can provide a scalable way to alleviate some of the worst consequences of the ongoing challenges faced by the industry.
In this article, we’ll explore how AR (Augmented Reality) tools in particular can help to combat the skilled labour shortage in UK construction.
Why is there a skilled labour shortage in the UK?
Let’s first take a quick look at some of the reasons for construction industry shortages. It’s important to note that the UK isn’t the only country with a struggling construction sector. In the US, the number of construction workers was on a steady incline right up until March 2020. Almost overnight, the number of workers dropped sharply, returning to historic lows seen right after the financial crisis.
Attracting younger workers to the construction industry has proven to be difficult all over the globe. Construction isn’t perceived favourably by millennials, the generation that makes up over half of the modern workforce. In the UK, the problem is further exacerbated by an ageing population. Over time, more workers are leaving the construction sector than can be replaced.
Is Brexit causing the skilled labour shortage in the UK?
Although undoubtedly responsible for increased operational complexity, the direct impact of Brexit on the skilled labour shortage remains a hotly contested issue. UK recruitment firm Randstad recently reported that the construction industry’s shortage of labour had more to do with increasing demand than Brexit itself.
The company drew this conclusion based on data which showed that in 2020, there were on average 17 applications for engineering roles. One year later, this figure had dropped to just 4 applications per vacancy. Critically, Randstad identified that whilst the number of applicants overall had dropped by 15%, the number of vacancies had risen by 60%.
Why is the construction industry shortage particularly pronounced?
The pandemic has had an especially profound effect on the construction sector. Supply chain issues have led to widespread delays in sourcing materials and a subsequent increase in prices. In the UK, the NHS Track and Trace system led to a phenomenon dubbed the ‘pingdemic’, where many workers were forced to isolate at short notice to halt the spread of the virus.
So, what can technology do to alleviate some of the challenges faced by the sector?
What can augmented reality do to help fight the skilled labour shortage in the UK?
Technology isn’t a silver bullet. No one tool will fix the complex range of issues affecting the industry. But modern solutions, particularly AR (augmented reality) tools, can make it easier for construction companies to weather the skilled labour shortage in the UK in the short term.
One of the biggest problems facing the construction industry is the successful transferral of skills. More experienced workers typically leave the industry without passing their knowledge on to younger generations, leading to a steady decline in expertise.
Traditional training can be difficult to organise, involving analogue or classroom-based learning. Remote AR tools provide interactive experiences, so that experts can offer practical onsite guidance at scale.
Interactive training has been proven to teach new skills more effectively, especially if trainees are aware of the benefits. It’s also cheaper to provide virtual training, especially as trainee staff can access materials at any time depending on the remote AR platform.
Resilience and flexibility
Not all staff need to be onsite to offer value to the company. During the ‘pingdemic’, staff that were healthy (but told to isolate as a precaution) could use remote assistance tools to provide remote guidance and expertise to their onsite colleagues.
It’s important to remember that the pandemic may not be entirely over just yet. As recently as October 2021, the NHS recommended the UK government look into reimposing restrictions over the winter season. Construction firms should prepare themselves now, minimising their exposure by leveraging AR technology.
Action is better than cure
As is the case with any technological solution, AR on it’s own can’t solve all of the issues around supply and demand shortages. It shouldn’t be perceived as a silver bullet that will fix all of the complicated issues facing the construction industry in the UK.
However, leveraging easy-to-access remote tools is a significant method to limit the effects of a protracted skilled labour shortage in the UK construction. By taking advantage of AR technology solutions, construction companies can make the best use of the talent they have to train the next generation, with fewer practical limitations than ever.
Construction companies need to invest in remote assistance now to minimise their risk and position themselves to be more resilient in the future.
Combat the skilled labour shortage in UK construction with Fixzy
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