Why a digital-first approach is needed to upskill the construction industry

The construction industry's resistance to digital technology exacerbates workforce challenges, with 225,000 skilled workers needed by 2027. Our CEO, Jen Longden, explores why a digital-first approach is vital for growth and attracting younger talent. It's no secret the construction industry has been traditionally reluctant to enter the world of digital technology. This is naturally having a negative impact on the sector's ability to drive forward, especially when it comes to upskilling the workforce.

The UK construction industry contributes so much to the economy, providing jobs for nearly one in 10 people. Its place as one of our country's largest and most important industries is threatened, however, with rising challenges facing the sector, coupled with a reticence to digitise. It's these exact reasons why we're so passionate about Tequ, as we have a platform here that can help to upskill one of the UK's most vital industries through an innovative approach to digitisation.



225,000 skilled construction workers are needed by 2027

High levels of job vacancies and low levels of unemployment have been an ongoing issue in recent years, exacerbated by the impact of Brexit and the loss of EU-born workers, and then the pandemic, which caused an exodus of employees during furlough. For the industry to grow, developing the current workforce and encouraging more recruits is vital. It has been reported by the Construction Skills Network (CSN) that around 225,000 skilled workers are needed by 2027 - that is 45,000 per year starting from 2023 - to help meet the expected output.

With intense pressure on house building, infrastructure for energy and transport, and retrofitting to meet net zero targets, construction firms need more support than ever to develop, train and attract workers. While there are positive initiatives taking place such as more investment into apprenticeships and more collaboration within the industry, the need to digitise outdated systems and methods has never been clearer.


Challenging traditions

Part of what has held back much of the progress in the construction industry is the preconceived notion that working in construction, particularly from entry-level, is seen as a 'second choice' employment pathway, with no clear indication of progression. Those in the sector will be quick to confirm that this is untrue, as there are more opportunities than ever to build a lifelong career through training schemes, accreditations, experience and mentors.

By using digital tools, businesses can monitor, track and share their team's progress, which allows for more growth of teams and individuals throughout the industry. Without these records and an easy way to access them, progress can be slow. Last year's Annual Apprenticeship Conference found that of the 2.3m people who work in construction in the UK, 73% of that operational workforce currently sit in Level 2 or below roles.


In 2021/22 there were only 4,680 apprenticeships

The UK also has a requirement of around 30-35,000 new Level 2 workers annually, but in 2021/22, there were only 4,680 apprenticeships - a huge concern for the industry. Digitisation should be at the forefront of construction company strategy as it is in other sectors. It immediately challenges the notion of an outdated industry and is more appealing to young people entering the world of work - a demographic that has been gradually declining within the sector. This means not just for the work they are doing and how they do it, but all the upskilling and processes that wrap around their day jobs, too.

Another challenge I have had frequent discussions about is managing training and education within construction. There is no standard approach across the industry that companies can feed into - in fact, the one common factor was the use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to log data manually. This is a time-consuming process that many companies simply do not have the resources for, and thus it becomes less of a priority and more of a problem - particularly when thinking about the potential for errors to sneak in.

Similarly, the consistent feedback we hear is how much falls onto HR managers within construction organisations to deal with training goals and then track this against company accreditations - it can be very difficult to collate without support and the right tools. As well as an attitude adjustment, there needs to be pride and ownership taken in this task for upskilling to be tackled efficiently. This is something that digitisation can offer, with our own Tequ offering developed to meet these particular ends.


Seeing the benefits

Digitisation has the power to streamline all these processes, granting accessibility to more people so that this becomes a whole community approach. It also enables timely reminders, the ability to look back and ahead, and plan accordingly. Most importantly, it gives time, resourcing and therefore profitability back to businesses who can then see the real added benefit of upskilling.

The best example of how digital tools can support progress and consistency within learning and training is how the sector adapted during the pandemic. Under intense pressure to move online, the sector was able to see what was possible. Online classroom functions and endpoint assessments allowed teaching to continue and students to still gain qualifications. This also increased flexibility for colleges who were able to make direct claims. We also saw the use of employer hubs, which helped to create enhanced communication between companies to utilise apprentices and workers across the city - something the sector could certainly use now.

One of the many ways to make digitisation more achievable is by using what we already know to its full advantage. Embracing handheld technology - phones and tablets - as a learning tool is a good way of reducing the need for computer towers and screens, allowing people to work in different places and make tasks more efficient without the risk of errors or lost information. Messaging apps became a popular way to make last minute changes in assessment requirements, which pre-Covid had not really ever been done. There are plenty of small ways to introduce digitisation that can make a huge difference.


The benefits of a digital approach

To encourage digitisation in the sector, the work has to begin 'at home' - by employers focusing on a digital approach to skills packages and training in-house. It is enforcing the idea of a paper-free future for students and employees who are navigating the process. There needs to a full commitment to blended learning, and a step away from full-time classroom environments for teaching. If more lessons could be accessed online, this increases flexibility for those working on site to be able to complete this training at a more suitable time.

According to Online Collaborative Learning Theory (OCL) by Professor Linda Harasim, a shift into teaching and learning through the internet and by digital means has several advantages - again aligning with our own ethos. In her research, Harasim predicts the concept of e-learning will result in the creation of a large-scale educational network. OCL is also thought to aid in three stages of knowledge acquisition and building. This includes idea generating - when divergent concepts are brought together, idea organising, when students compare, analyse and categorise concepts through debate and intellectual convergence, when assignments are written into essays or collaborative pieces of work.

A move into digital also allows better communication between businesses as well as with regulations and moderators. Training documents can be kept in one place with easy access at any time and by doing so, businesses can build a real picture of their workforce and easily pinpoint areas to focus on rather than having a misinformed strategy.


Interested in learning more about our e-learning platform? Book a free demonstration today.