Regional skills analysis of Scottish construction sector revealed in first-of-its-kind report

A detailed five-year overview of skills, demand and supply from across Scotland’s construction sector has been produced thanks to new research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) that gives an unprecedented level of detail about the industry.

In what is the most wide-ranging regional skills mapping exercise for construction in Scotland, the new report means that for the first time the construction sector can pinpoint where and when skills gaps will emerge on a regional level.

The aim of the report is to help CITB work with industry and the education sector to address the challenges raised by the findings, and to create a series of regional skills action plans that are meaningful and direct future training needs.

With overall demand in 2018 estimated at 247,300 and an existing workforce of nearly 241,000, the overall workforce in Scotland is estimated to need nearly 6,400 workers. This represents a shortfall of 3% on current employment.

However, by incorporating a wide range of data and analysis as well as the views of Scottish contractors, government stakeholders and federations who took part in consultation workshops, the report can provide an assessment of demand, supply and emerging skills gaps across seven local Scottish areas over a five year period.

Headline findings from the report include:

  • Construction skills pressures in areas such as the Highlands & Islands and South East;
  • Shortfall of workforce numbers in the Highlands & Islands;
  • Potential shortages in painting and decorating and plumbing trades;
  • Need for support staff who work in the supply chain – IT specialists, researchers, lawyers, procurement experts – further emphasising that construction is a career for everyone.
  • As Table 41 shows there are some noticeable variations in particular occupations, such as building envelope specialists; construction project managers and glaziers, which all have high levels of potential demand.

    Some of the volatility in the gap analysis can be due to relatively low workforce numbers for particular occupations; however the occupational groups used in Table 42 show some noticeable potential gaps in a number of areas such as:

    • Painting and decorating
    • Plumbing & HVAC
    • Office based support staff - office based
    • Skilled trades - other occupations
    • Table 42 also highlights the potential regional variation with both the Highland & Islands and the South East areas having shortfalls across a range of occupations, whereas Lanarkshire and the South West are show a surplus of supply.

      The new analysis, which puts into action CITB’s new evidence based model of working, will be renewed annually, alongside the existing research offer.

      Ian Hughes

      Speaking to our sister publication Scottish Construction Now (SCN) ahead of its launch, Ian Hughes, CITB partnerships director for Scotland, described the construction sector as the driving force behind this report.

      He said: “In providing market intelligence and insight for the UK construction industry, the CITB Construction Skills Network (CSN) produces a single five-year forecast for 12 UK regions of which Scotland is one. And while having national figures is useful in terms of training and employment strategies, there simply can’t be a one-size fits all approach. Therefore about 18 months ago a request was made from the sector to try and obtain a deeper regional analysis of the situation.

      “As a result we have undertaken the most wide-ranging regional skills mapping exercise for construction in Scotland. The research gives an unprecedented level of detail about the industry, providing us with an in-depth evidence base of construction skills requirements on a regional basis.”

      Keen to present the analysis as a map of opportunities rather than evidence of a lack of skills in Scotland, Hughes added: “The aim is to work together with industry and the education sector to address those challenges, to develop regional skills action plans which will address existing and emerging occupational shortfalls, and really focus on where support is needed most.

      “By repeating the analysis on an annual basis we can create a series plans that are meaningful and enrich the evidence base for Scotland.

      “Part of the report’s uniqueness was that we spoke to all Scottish federations, lots of employers and the public sector bodies like the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland, over 200 in all.

      “This enables us to design veritable products and interventions which are respected by the sector and can be tracked and evidence based as we go forward.

      “We will now be able to measure how we are closing skills gaps, and in turn increasing the flow of skilled workers into the Scottish construction industry.”

      In its own words the report “is the first of its kind and is not without limitations, particularly regarding available data, rural challenges and workforce mobility”. SCN asked whether there is a hope that future reports will fill in any data gaps to provide a fuller picture of the Scottish workforce?

      Hughes replied: “This report is a good starting point but don’t underestimate data that is already incorporated within it. It is true that we see it very much as a fluid piece of work to review and renew every year but there are skills shortfalls which have been affecting employers for first time which we can immediately recognise and address.”

      When assessing the pattern of demand for labour across the country, Hughes said that some of the most glaring pieces of information uncovered by the report were the under supply of skills in the Highlands & Islands and the South East of Scotland.

      For him, designing a specific rural strategy for Scotland represented the biggest challenge and was without doubt the highest priority.

      Ian Hughes said: “CITB commissioned the research outlined in this report to gain a deeper understanding of what is happening to skills and labour at a local level in Scotland.

      “The research exercise has also further exposed the need to understand specific drivers in unique areas such as the Highlands & Islands where there is a need to interrogate data even further to uncover the labour reality for that region.

      “The shortage of office staff is another challenge which we may need to approach slightly differently. What we have now are the tools to ensure the right training infrastructure is in place now and for the future.”

      Hughes said that he hopes that the utilisation of all the evidence to develop regional skills action plans, as is one of the report’s recommendations, could be completed within the next three months with longer term plans taking four-five years to conclude.

      Responding to the report, Stephen Sheridan, skills planning manager for construction at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), said: “SDS is committed to developing a detailed evidence base of skills supply and demand to help inform investment in construction skills from both employers and the public sector.

      “This research reflects that commitment and we welcome the recognition that apprenticeships remain fundamentally important for employers in meeting their future skills needs.

      “SDS will continue working with construction employers of all sizes and in all parts of the country to help ensure they can source the skills they need to grow.”

      Ian Rogers, chief executive at the Scottish Decorators’ Federation, added: “The construction industry has been calling for the evidence base in Scotland to go into this level of detail for some time. I welcome this initial report, which highlights the skills issues, both geographically, and at an occupational level.

      “The findings will enable us to plan for the future and get the right skills in place across the whole country.”

      The full report can be found here.


      The report proposes recommendations that include:

      1. Utilise the evidence base presented to develop regional skills action plans – take this information, as a starting point and work with all relevant stakeholders to create the seven regional skills action plans. The overall aim of this planning is to maintain the construction workforce at the right level with the right mix of skills, replacing the pipeline of people needed. This local planning approach needs to be informed by local evidence set against the backdrop of national activity. Scotland is delivering construction activity from its Local Construction Skills for Scotland June 2018 Executive Summary v existing workforce so ensuring planning for the right future workforce is vital. An updated view of project demand and supply of labour is vital in ensuring market confidence for industry on a consistent basis.
      2. Discuss and decide how to manage emerging skills gaps at a regional and occupational level ensuring the right training infrastructure is in place now and for the future - this report, for the first time provides a view at both geographical and occupational level of potential skills gaps. Notably across skilled trades in Painters & Decorators, Plumbing and HVAC and across a whole range of support staff needed to underpin the supply chain across Scottish construction. At a management level there are concerns around emerging gaps in Construction Managers and Supervisors. The report also highlights the supply of labour differences between geographical areas specifically Lanarkshire, where labour supply appears plentiful and the South East and the Highlands & Islands where the pressure on the labour supply is at its highest, though this has to be viewed in context given the rural nature of the areas and the mobile nature of the workforce- particularly regarding large projects and pressure points in terms of ensuring the right training provision is in place. It is recognised that there is a need to interrogate data even further to uncover the labour reality for the Highlands & Islands and this is addressed in our final recommendation.
      3. Focus on recruitment and retention building on the success of Scottish Apprenticeships – recruiting and retaining through the available Scottish workforce is crucial to the construction sector. Attracting both young people and mature adults is vital both as apprenticeships and career changers. Offering clear career progression pathways and showcasing construction as an attractive proposition needs to continue at local levels and as an integral part of regional skills action plans. Building on the value and success of Scottish apprenticeships needs to continue and it is recognised that recruiting and retaining apprenticeships is a challenge across all seven areas, compounded by numeracy and literacy issues. It is also recognised that SME’s train many apprentices who then move on to larger companies when qualified. Regional planning needs to work across the education sector and with both CITB and SDS to determine how the optimum outcome can be achieved for Scottish apprentices in a realistic environment through a blend of both physical and immersive learning solutions.
      4. Seek to address issues that are significant for Scotland; specifically upskilling and the challenges of rural locations – the report highlights specific issues that are a particular challenge for Scotland. The first is upskilling and the absence of any real programme of activity to address the issue. Linked to this is the challenge of operating in rural pockets where construction workers are required to be highly mobile and multi-skilled. The Highlands & Islands is the clear example but in reality the majority of Scotland is rural. It is recognised through employer feedback that the workforce addresses any peak in demand in rural locations by a reactive and mobile workforce, including imported labour, but that an improved scheduling of projects and forward demand management would enable employers to be more supported in working together and utilising local supply-chains.
      5. Using procurement and funding as a lever for change- any report of this nature will place significant value on not just the data results but the views of the industry gained through consultation. During this process a strong view was expressed throughout that procurement and funding should be explored across the seven regional areas to determine where levers could be utilised to shape social value & community benefits across Scotland- this includes both aspects of employment and skills planning and enabling timescales that allow local contractors to tender.
      6. Maintain this evidence base annually – this report delivers analysis of demand, supply and skills gaps for the Scottish construction sector at seven geographical levels. This has not been achieved to date and represents a ‘starting point’ from which the information should be utilised to inform regional planning. It is certainly recognised that more work is needed to unpick the information available on training data and that the demand profile needs further work to understand the range of information between larger projects and repair & maintenance. The research exercise has also further exposed the challenges of data available at occupational group level and the need to understand specific drivers in unique areas such as the Highlands & Islands. Industry needs the confidence to plan then train and develop and at this level.
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