Revealing the real face of construction

Quarter of a million people needed in construction by 2027 but outdated public perceptions mean too many overlook it as a career option says new CIOB report

Press Office

Last updated: 26th April 2023

The days of construction careers being portrayed as low paid, low skilled, low prospect jobs for academic underachievers should have been confined to history, yet research by a leading industry body shows the sector remains tainted by these outdated misconceptions.

The construction industry struggles to recruit and faces worker shortages across the UK, which threaten to halt economic growth if not urgently addressed. Industry figures* suggest an extra 224,900 people need to be recruited in construction jobs by 2027, or an average of 44,980 a year, if the sector is to meet expected demand.

A new report, The Real Face of Construction, has been published by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the world’s largest professional body for the built environment. It says in the UK, the average annual earnings in construction in 2022 were around £36,000 compared to £33,000 across all other sectors** and, while average earnings across all sectors rose by 15% between 2012 and 2022, the rise for full-time construction workers was significantly higher at around 24%. 

However, in a recent survey*** commissioned by CIOB, when asked about pay in construction, more than half of people (57%) perceived average earnings to be lower than the true figure. 

When it comes to recommending construction careers to their children or other young people, more than twice as many people (16%) said they were very unlikely to recommend a career in construction, as those who said they were very likely (7%). 

CIOB says this is a major concern considering the industry’s significant role in the UK achieving not only economic growth, but also the Government’s levelling up and net zero ambitions.

Caroline Gumble, CEO at CIOB, said: “Our report highlights just how big a contribution construction makes to the economy yet it’s a sector which is often taken for granted and overlooked at Government level and by individuals who are exploring career options or changing their career path.

"Our survey shows there are big misconceptions around earning potential, job prospects and working conditions and this is something the sector needs to work together to address if we’re to bridge the existing worker shortfall that will over time become bigger if nothing is done. Without construction workers, including those in IT, planning, administration and management, as well as the frontline trades, there can be no new homes or other infrastructure and our economy will grind to a halt.”

The south east of England is home to the largest number of construction workers (381,000) while the east of England has the largest percentage of its total workforce engaged in construction (7.9%), however both still need more professionals to enter the industry to meet future demand, as does every part of the UK.

When asked to select words to describe construction jobs, “overly physical” and “dangerous” were among the three top answers from those who took part in the CIOB survey, supporting the belief that such outdated perceptions are a big factor in so many people, particularly women, not considering role in the industry. In reality, increasingly more construction related jobs are office-based or site-based roles using modern technology, that don’t involve much, if any, physical activity. 

Caroline Gumble added: “We know that the construction sector has an image problem and our survey has thrown up some insightful data on where that is most prevalent. As an industry we must take the lead in promoting construction as a viable career with strong financial and career growth prospects, but we also need the support of education leaders, including careers advisors, to change attitudes and this needs to start with Government. We want to see construction better represented in schemes to promote STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and maths) and vocational qualifications, not just in construction but more widely, given equal esteem with university degrees. Construction must be promoted as a sector in which people can make a positive difference, drive sustainability, improve their communities and leave a real legacy.”  

CIOB’s Real Face of Construction report and consumer research also show:
•    2.1 million people are employed in construction in the UK, the fourth largest employment share outside the public sector
•    The construction industry is a major contributor to the UK economy accounting for approx. 6% of gross value added
•    People over 55 years old are least likely to recommend construction careers, and men are more likely to than woman
•    People in London are most likely to recommend construction careers (38%) while those in Wales (20%) are least likely

*Figures from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
** Based on the data for 2022, the average (median) full-time construction employee, including both males and females, earned more than £36,000. (£36,259 in the ASHE data) This compares with £33,000 for all full-time employees across the economy.
It should be noted that figures on average earnings in construction are impacted by the gender pay gap. Men tend to earn more than women and are far more heavily represented in construction than across the overall workforce. 
*** Survey of 2,000 UK adults carried out in February 2023 by Opinion Matters

"Construction must be promoted as a sector in which people can make a positive difference, drive sustainability, improve their communities and leave a real legacy.”

Caroline Gumble, CEO at CIOB