macdonald and company
macdonald and company

Building Surveyors Skills Shortage Getting Worse?

Posting date: 3 May 2019
Author: Tim Stranks

How Can We Protect Our Industry’s Future?

Ask anyone in the construction industry and they will tell you that there is an acute skills shortage in the sector. Is this the reality, though? Are fewer building surveyors coming through the university system? If so, what might the impact be on the future for the construction industry? What could the industry do to tackle the issue? There are lots of building surveyor jobs so demand isn't the issue.

Fewer Studying Building at University

The perception that fewer students are coming through university with degrees in architecture, building and planning is not a misconception. It is reality. According to the 2018 Patterns and Trends report published by Universities UK, the number of students in this subject area has fallen by a colossal 18.9% since before the Great Recession of 2008/9.

In absolute numbers, in 2016/17 there were only 51,185 students in this sphere, compared to more than 63,000 in 2007/8. For growth/reduction in student numbers, it is the fourth worst-performing subject area.

However, there does appear to be a glimmer of hope for the building surveyor sector. According to Universities UK data, the number of students studying for architecture, building and planning-related degrees collapsed to as low as 49,160 in 2013/14. Have we turned the corner? Is the industry attracting more young people now?

Surveyor Numbers in UK Falling

With the number of graduates coming through the university system decreasing, you might suspect the number of surveyors in the UK to fall, too. You would be right in your assumption. In 2018, there were 55,000 chartered surveyors in the UK, either employed or self-employed. This number has fallen from 63,000 in 2011.

It appears that retirees and other leavers have combined with fewer graduates to hit the industry hard. 

Will Expansion in Construction be Hampered by Shortage of Surveyors?

The construction industry generates more than £100 billion in the UK. It produces more than 6% of the UK’s total output, and employs more than 2 million workers. With huge infrastructure projects, nationwide regeneration programmes, and a push to increase new home delivery to more than 300,000 per year, the construction sector is thriving. But could the shortage of surveyors put the skids under this growth? The evidence suggests that it is already producing negative consequences:

  • RICS predicted that a skills shortage could impact as many as 27,000 construction projects every year
  • It was found by RICS that two-thirds of surveying firms are turning business away
  • What can Construction Industry do to Tackle Building Surveyors Shortage?

    When forming a strategy to tackle the shortage of building surveyors, the industry needs to understand why such a shortage exists. There is, of course, several factors that contribute. These include:

    · The Great Recession

    Inevitably, recessions are accompanied by layoffs. The Great Recession caused by the Global Financial Crisis and Credit Crunch hit the construction industry harder than most. Some estimates put the accumulating jobs losses in construction at between 300,000 and 400,000 because of the recession. People left the industry never to return.

    These job losses, and the fall in house prices that the recession caused, has discouraged entrants into the industry.

    · An Ageing Workforce

    The UK population is ageing. It is estimated that almost a quarter of construction workers are over the age of 55. The number of those over 60 is increasing rapidly. The knock-on effect for the construction industry is that older employees are leaving to retire.

    As people retire, their skills are lost to the industry. With fewer young people considering building surveyor jobs (links), the skills shortage is exacerbated.

    · Difficulty Attracting Young People 

    Whether because of the recession, the reticence to work outdoors in all weathers, or the perception of construction and building as an ‘unsexy’ career choice, it is clear that employers and industry bodies are failing to attract young people to the industry.

    · Failing to Care for the Current Workforce

    The strain of the skills shortage is taking its toll on existing workers. The RICS and Macdonald & Company Rewards and Attitudes Survey 2019 (link) found that employees were likely to be dissatisfied in their current roles because of having to work weekends or during annual leave. A lack of line manger recognition was also a contributory factor. Dissatisfied employees are more likely to leave their employer, and even consider a career change.

    · Gender Pay Gap

    One way in which the industry might become more attractive to young people is to close its gender pay gap. However, as the RICS and Macdonald & Company survey found, a sizeable gender pay gap in the real estate and built environment sector still exists. At 20.43%, this pay gap is discouraging to young women considering their career choices.

    How Employers Address Skills Shortage in Building Surveying

    If the industry cannot attract new blood, the shortage of skilled employees such as building surveyors will only worsen. A 2018 RICS UK Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey found that 23% of surveyors were experiencing an increased workload. 60% of companies reported a workforce shortage as impeding their growth and restricting profit margins. The issue of skills shortages must be tackled. Strategies that may help include:

    Encouraging a More Diverse Workforce

    Widening the employment net to outside traditional universities and existing talent pools.

    Improve CPD programmes and On-the-Job Training & Development

    Upskilling existing employees, providing opportunities for them to learn new skills and take on extra responsibilities.

    Review Accreditation of Courses

    Could the industry seek to accredit more courses, and therefore attract students with a good understanding of engineering and science rather than expertise in the subjects? Perhaps by being more flexible in course accreditation, more women will be encouraged to consider building surveying as a career choice.

    Collaborate More with Universities

    The industry is changing, and being shaped by digital development such as artificial intelligence. Should industry bodies such as the RICS seek greater collaboration with universities to ensure that we capture more general, multi-skilled and broad-based foundations (such as change management and leadership) before moving these students to specialisation?

    · Work Harder to Retain Employees

    Retaining existing senior employees is crucial. Making work less labour-intensive, providing greater flexibility to work from home or with more flexible hours, and ensuring that employees have a better work/life balance and time to enjoy their families and personal life could be small changes that have a major impact on your business.

    In short, the skills shortage is impacting the industry. However, there are strategies that can be employed to close this gap – both by the industry and by individual companies, as we discuss in our article “How can you attract the best surveyors in the UK?” (link)

    To discuss your staffing requirements and discover how Macdonald & Company could help you in your search for highly talented building surveyors, contact the Real Estate Services team.

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