How to address the region’s skills shortage

Mohamed Swidan, Senior Director and Head of MENA, Procore Technologies

The construction industry's challenge with skill shortages takes the spotlight in Procore's recent benchmark report, "How We Build Now". Surveying more than 800 decision-makers in EMEA's construction sector, the report reveals a significant challenge.

When asked about their level of confidence in their workforce's ability to meet business needs over the next year, 50 per cent admitted to being only 'somewhat confident.' This sentiment aligns with the ongoing labour shortage across the GCC, highlighted by the Arabian Gulf Construction Insight. The scarcity of skilled labour, concentrated in Saudi Arabia, affects neighbouring countries and intensifies the urgency.

As businesses prepare for a potential 20 per cent surge in projects within a year (according to 36 per cent of respondents), addressing the skills gap gains prominence. Digitalisation plays a crucial role in this endeavour, as I have seen across multiple industries over the course of my career in technology. The synergy of traditional construction skills with technological advancement offers a promising path forward. In the following sections, I’ll delve more into how digitalisation can serve as a key driver for innovative solutions to the skill shortage challenge.


Digital investment in talent retention

By improving the overall engagement and wellbeing of its employees, the construction sector has the opportunity to seriously boost its level of talent retention. This calls for companies to make the day-to-day lives of their employees – regardless of role, age or location – easier, by automating manual tasks and returning more time to high-impact activities in the process.

Digitalisation has a significant role to play here, both in its ability to automate manual data entry and reduce the need to painstakingly search for information. Not only does this boost productivity and absorb the added pressure from increasingly complex projects – it creates time and headspace for upskilling and career development in an otherwise busy environment.

Technology can also have a profound impact on wellbeing in general. Having one source of truth such as a construction management platform brings greater confidence and accountability to the workplace, helping alleviate stress from the day-to-day and improving job satisfaction amongst employees.


Making the right noises to attract future talent

Historically, construction has fallen behind in the levels of digitalisation seen in other sectors. As a result, it has lost out on generations of talent by playing into the reductive idea of what a construction worker is. Yet, it is simply not true that the industry is all hard hats and manual labour on site. From personally speaking to Procore customers, as well as being a focus in ‘How We Build Now’, the most in-demand skills in GCC construction are broader ones such as budget control, tech-savviness, project management and relationship building.

The face of construction is changing, and to attract a younger workforce, construction must do a better job of advertising the digital-first environment it is building. This can help change the expectations individuals have about the industry and depict construction as having plenty of avenues for digital skill sets.

No individual wants to work in an industry that doesn’t empower their creativity. And because of new technologies, construction plays host to a number of opportunities for digital creativity – the kind that can incorporate cutting-edge technology such as drones, augmented reality (AR) and much more.


Building a talent ecosystem

In a landscape where the construction industry is contending with skill shortages amidst intense competition for talent, the imperative is clear: our industry is required to not only adapt but also thrive. To my mind, this journey demands a profound understanding of retention, recruitment, and the well-being of their workforce. Here's where the transformative power of digitalisation takes centre stage.

Construction management platforms are often praised for the level of oversight they give teams when it comes to projects. But they can do the same for the workforce too. By encouraging best-case data practices, construction management platforms allow teams to more easily identify areas of improvement and take informed action, reducing the frustrations that often come with wasted time and money.

What’s essential to leaders in the construction industry looking to navigate a challenging market is that they invest in a platform that is easy-to-use and supports training and upskilling. Only then will they be setting themselves up for a future where the sky’s the limit and their talent, as well as their business, is constantly innovating to stay at the top of its game in construction.