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Diversity and bridging the skills gap

The British inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, once noted that “we need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges”. It’s a time of significant change, and the challenges the world faces are great. Today, cities are already home to 55% of the world’s population. In 2050, the UN predicts the global urban population will be 66% – around 6.3 billion people living, working and playing in cities around the world.

Sean Tompkins, CEO, RICS
25 September 2017

Urbanisation is fundamental to future growth, productivity, living standards and resource efficiency. In this environment, the role of real estate – and professionals working in the sector – is vital. We can help cities by providing the infrastructure and environment to facilitate creativity and innovation.

However, to achieve this, we need to attract and retain diverse talent in our industry. And we currently have a huge skills gap.

The global construction industry is set to expand by an average of 3.2% per year for the next decade. The challenge facing the industry on a global scale is how to deliver this unprecedented volume of work. We need a seismic shift in strategy to create skills capacity, from entry level roles to encouraging experienced professionals from other professions into ours. We also need innovation and new enterprise as the existing ways of doing things cannot keep pace with demand.

To put the skills gap into perspective: the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan for Skills reveals that the sector will need nearly 100,000 additional workers by 2020, with 250,000 of the existing workforce requiring retraining and up-skilling as the type of work changes. This is also true of other industrialised markets, such as Australia, Hong Kong and the USA, who are suffering from the dual challenge of an ageing workforce coupled with rising demand.

Fostering greater diversity is an important way to increase the number of professionals and skilled trade workers. We can learn lessons from regions who are making the most progress. For example, Norway has had the greatest success with gender diversity – women account for 35% of the construction workforce. This is compared to 14% in the UK, and just 2% in Greece.

But diversity isn’t just about gender. A McKinsey report Diversity Matters, showed a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity, and better financial performance in the USA. For every 10% increase in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) diversity on the senior executive team, earnings before interest and taxes rise by 0.8%.

Along with EY, RICS published a report in 2016 looking at the current state of play for diversity in our industry Building Inclusivity: laying the foundations for the future. It was the first report of its kind to look at all aspects of diversity and inclusion in the land, property and construction sector. The data was provided by UK firms committed to changing their diversity profile, and shows we are working against a backdrop of low levels of representation: 14% female, 1.2% BAME, 0.6% disability group representation among our professionals.

We need to lead the way to help the profession compete in the war for talent. And this is across all aspects of diversity – recruiting the next generation of surveyors from the whole workforce, not just select parts.

Financial incentives are no longer enough. The industry needs to offer employees the flexible working that allows people to keep commitments outside of work while delivering within it. We need to cultivate learning agility, adaptability and resilience. Diverse teams adapt better in an uncertain climate with an accelerating pace of change. We need the power of diverse thought more than ever to support our changing world.


LinkedIn Talent Solutions brought together companies and organisations from across the UK and around the world to give their perspective on the Future of Work. Visit the LinkedIn Future of Work hub and discover the trends that industry leaders consider are shaping the future of recruitment.

The World Built Environment Forum facilitates industry leading discussions harnessing the enormous potential of the 21st century's people and places.