Construction worker climbs into construction vehicle

According to the EU Commission, three million construction workers lack the skills they need in energy efficiency and renewable energy1. In Germany, two thirds of companies say they have problems recruiting the right people with the requisite expertise2. In the UK, the number of engineering students dropped by 11.8 per cent in the last few years, despite the number of job vacancies in the construction sector increasing by over 130 per cent3.

Across Europe, the industry is crying out for people with tomorrow’s skillsets and the time and facilities to upskill the existing labour force, which is an issue affecting a great many industries beyond construction. For example, the EU is set to invest €4 billion on 25 large infrastructure projects across ten of its member states, covering the areas of health, transport, research, environment and energy4. To deliver such large-scale building projects, the construction industry needs to be able to operate at full capacity.

Upskilling and recruiting a changing workforce

This skills shortage is not happening in a vacuum. The sector’s workforce is aging. In the UK, 22 per cent of construction workers are over 50 years old5. While construction firms are beginning to look seriously at recruiting and training more Gen Z workers, the emphasis is still firmly on finding millennials (born between 1977 and 1995) - which raises the prospect of the skills shortage persisting for some time to come.

The industry is also under-utilising the talents and availability of female staff. In the UK, for example, less than 10 per cent of all construction professionals are women6. Across Europe as a whole, that figure is only slightly higher, at exactly 10 per cent7, despite government and industry efforts to address the imbalance.

These demographic challenges make it even more important that the sector does more to attract a wider range of skilled new workers into the industry, while working to upgrade the skills of those already in the sector.

The added value of external support 

Even the most determined recruitment drive will take some time to get new workers into the pipeline and train them up. Similarly, even the most comprehensive of training programmes won’t have an immediate impact on the breadth of skills available. This is a real challenge, according to Shell’s Powering Peak Performance report.

Right now, 42 per cent of construction managers face a lack of expertise and training.

Working with a third-party expert can help address this growing industry issue. One of the areas, in which the skills shortage is making itself most felt, is in maintenance, especially reading equipment lubrication. Shell’s research found more than half (56 per cent) of European construction companies say sub-optimal maintenance practices are causing breakdowns in their machinery. 72 per cent said their staff needed more training on lubrication best practices and 68 per cent said working with a third-party expert in maintenance and lubrication would add value8.

Working with an external expert in lubrication gives construction companies access to expertise that can, for example, help them choose exactly the right lubricant for each machine and each use case. Through modern online assets such as Shell’s LubeAdvisor, LubeMatch and LubeCoach, partners can benefit from all the services, knowledge and tools they need to train their staff on maintenance best practice.

How to stay ahead 

This kind of support matters, because staying competitive in the construction industry means meeting tight project deadlines and budgets, while complying with safety, environmental and regulatory demands. This makes equipment availability, reliability and longevity of critical importance. 

You may be a maintenance, operations or purchasing manager dealing with the headache of the skills shortage day in day out. Or the owner of a construction operator feeling the relentless pressure of having to keep work on schedule. At Shell, we believe the power of partnership can help you overcome the unique challenges you face.


1 European Construction Sector Observatory, Analytical Report: Improving the Human Capital Basis, European Commission, April 2017

2 European Construction Sector Observatory, June 2018: Country profile: Germany, European Commission

3 European Construction Sector Observatory, June 2018: Country profile: United Kingdom, European Commission

EU invests €4bn for 25 infrastructure projects, PBC Today, April 2019

Addressing the skills shortage gap in the construction sector - Building Products, 2019

6 Inclusivity: The Changing Role of Women in the Construction Workforce, Sonia Gurjao

Promoting gender equality in the construction sector, Liébus, P.,, 2019

8 Powering Peak Performance: The Impact of Equipment Maintenance, Shell, 2018

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