The Spanish construction sector sees its workforce aging, with one in every three employees already over 50 years old. Workers under the age of 30 did not represent even 9% of the 1.3 million jobs in the sector in 2019.*
The construction sector, one traditional pillar of employment in Spain, has more serious problems than overcoming the hangover from a crisis that has reduced its level of activity. Companies taking projects and tenders forward find that their workforce is ageing at unimaginable levels a decade ago, in a country with more than three million unemployed and the second highest youth unemployment rate in the European Union.
Today, almost one in 3 workers (31%) of the sector is over 50 years old, while those hired under 30 years of age have passed from being 25% (1 in 4) to not even a tenth (9%) of the workers in the sector, according to data from National Institute of Statistics (INE by its Spanish acronym) collected by Fundación Laboral de la Construcción.
At the end of 2019, the sector employed 1.3 million people, 56.000 more than the previous year. This progress has been constant since 2014, when this activity, considered a leading indicator of the dynamics of the economy, began to recover. However, the figure is still 48% below the volume of employment generated in 2008. When the sector was the undisputed king in Spain labour market, it experienced a frenetic activity that allowed it to employ 1.2 million more of the workers it hires today.
Ageing has occurred because out of the jobs that have been destroyed and not recovered, just over half a million were for employees under 30. It is precisely in the 25-29 age group that the drain has been greatest, with 289,000 fewer workers. Menawhile, at the other end, the process has been quite different. Although as of today workers between 50 and 59 years old are 27,000 less than in 2008, they represent now the 25% of the workforce, doubling the 14% they represented at the time of the boom, a rate equivalent to the percentage of all workers under 30 in the past decade.
The most surprising thing about INE figures is that the construction labour market preserves its workload for those at retirement age and beyond. To this day and in terms of people hired, the workforce from 65 to 69 years old is the same as it was before the crisis, and the number of those hired over 70 years old increases from 900 to 1,200.
Enrique Corral, Director of Fundación Laboral de la Construcción, points out that the sector has now a bad image among younger workers as they associate it with weathering, physical exertion and low wages that are no longer what they were during the construction boom. “The service sector, which has lower salaries, captures more young people”, explains. “The consequences are many, but there are project that cannot be undertaken because of a lack of qualifies personnel and companies are forced to bid for good specialized workers”, he says.
With a registered unemployment of more than 260,000 people for the whole construction sector, it’s hard to understand the labour ageing of an activity that last year increased by 12% the value of the tenders up to 18.5 billion euros, according to data from the employer’s association of the sector, Seopan. The activity in residential construction, that started strong in 2019, ended up far from the 150.000 homes that the most optimistic forecasts had estimated.
Professions more demanded
Even so, the lack of generational change and qualifications in the sector remain critical and increasingly important obstacles.
Professions such as mason, formworker or foreman are the more demanded by companies looking for staff. The specialization makes tasks like stone placement in buildings to be the most quoted within and outside of Spain. In a sector that, in addition to the crisis, has known changes both in the use of materials and techniques, Corral indicates that the current shortage of skilled labour makes 25% of the job offers to remain unfilled.