Construction Engineering May Hold Key to Future PMs

The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board‘s (ECITB’s) study on the need for qualified personnel by the end of the decade in the ECI is an interesting one for project managers. Talking to 100 experts between July and September 2010, ECITB found that 50-60,000 people would be needed to replace retirees and to match expansion demands.

Because ECI “provides the engineering, construction and project management skills to support all processing industries throughout the whole plant lifecycle from initial concept,” wannabe project managers should sit up and have a swig of coffee at this burgeoning employment boom.

The reality of the numbers, though, are not as accommodating as they might seem to the youth of the UK. Frankly, the numbers are staggering: to meet an expected workforce of 91,592* by 2020, the industry will have to recruit 56,028 people. That’s over 60% of its expected workforce. In essence, over half of the sustainable, competent workforce by then will not have been in the industry just under 10 years earlier. And with those retirees heading out the door en masse, this currently top-heavy workforce age-wise leaves one to think that a shed load of knowledge and expertise is going through that door with them. That expertise can’t be tapped merely through organised process assets – it needs to be recycled for the industry’s health.

Is anything here acceptable? Are the goals even achievable? Or do they even merit comprehension in the first place? The truth is, odds are heavily stacked against the youth of the UK meeting these goals. Let’s estimate conservatively and suggest that 10 per cent (5,600) of the needed recruitment is project managers. Can these projects be managed those experienced in sectors other than construction engineering?

Judging by the way many companies are recruiting these days, probably not. The way for an industry’s personnel to get old fast is to invest in development – not just glib training courses but long term academies or schools for developing the next generation leaders (and project managers).  Closing off the barriers of cross-sector recruitment where not having the right sector background and experience is not an option (turned-down project managers who’ve said in vain, ‘But my skills are transferable!’ are nodding their heads right now). Too often, sequestering recruitment to a single area of expertise can shut the door to future leaders in an industry. This appears to be what’s happened in construction engineering: as the industry gets older, they don’t seem to have adjusted and re-energised accordingly.

Worse, it simply may be too short of a time frame to catch up those now so essential 16-18 year olds adequately and fill that gap. Consider the short turnaround in this scenario faced by that age group: by 2020, a 17 year old today will be 26. How many capable project managers with a solid construction engineering background will have been developed to fill the shoes of the retirees?

ECITB estimates they’ll need “15-20,000 apprentices” (hello, Budget report), “15-20,000 skilled people retrained and 20,000 graduates to do the engineering, construction and project delivery.” The skilled people notion is intriguing: why, then, couldn’t construction engineering as a whole embrace picking off project personnel to fill in the necessary from other sectors? If there’s a gap and retraining is now a fact of life, why can’t a ready-to-go skillset get re-trained for their new sector’s tendencies?

*-Buried in the lead of the study was the revelation that currently, the industry “employs around 150,000 people annually in the UK.” And they’re already forecasting manpower for 2020 to be at just above 90,000, a headcount reduction of nearly 40%? Get those kids trained up!


Image courtesy nateone and reused with permission.

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