Inspiring Construction: how to win over young workers

3 min read

Mark Castle, Mace's Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Chair of Build UK explains how the new Build UK 'Inspiring Construction' campaign aims to get those already in the industry to help attract recruits from the next generation

We’ve long talked about the image of construction as a key reason why more young people do not choose to join our industry. At Build UK, we believe that it isn’t our image, but more a problem with how the industry presents itself. If we spend our time talking about dirty and muddy projects, then all we will do is reinforce the stereotypes that exist. 

Yet we have such an amazing story to tell. We build everything around us, from the schools we learn in to the hospitals we were born in and the homes we live in. How many other industries leave such a legacy, and how many other industries have such a diverse set of roles and working environments? 

As the new chairman of Build UK, I’ve made better and more effective engagement with schools a core part of my agenda for the next two years. I want to see a real step change in how we work with teachers, parents and pupils. 

Engagement must begin at a young age. Children start to rule career options in or out at an early age, and evidence shows that girls and boys hold stereotypical views about male and female careers by the age of seven. Certainly we need to be engaging with students before they choose their GCSE subjects, so that they understand about the benefits of choosing a career in construction. 

And the impact of such engagement is huge. 

Research by the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that students who have four or more contacts with employers while they are at school are 25% less likely to become NEET (not in education, employment and training) and can expect, when in full-time employment, to earn more than peers who had no such exposure. This demonstrates the direct impact that we can have on the lives of young people. 

The government’s Construction 2025 strategy set the challenge for the industry to “inspire young people through a co-ordinated approach”, and this was reinforced in the Farmer review, which called for “an outreach programme to schools drawing on existing industry exemplars and the vision for the industry’s future”. 

With members’ support, Build UK – in partnership with the Construction Industry Training Board – has launched the Inspiring Construction campaign to give everybody across the industry the information, tools and advice to help students take their first step into the industry. Whether through graduate programmes or apprenticeships, there are opportunities for all.

Technological and workplace change means young people face much more choice when deciding on their future career. If we are to achieve our aim of getting a more diverse set of talented people enthusiastic about the prospect of a career in construction, then we must be bold and ambitious. Instead of talking about an image problem, let’s do something to show people how they can get involved and the variety of opportunities construction has to offer. 

This industry is full of people who are passionate about construction, who enjoy thriving careers in a whole range of roles, utilising a broad variety of different skills. There are a myriad success stories throughout our sector at every level. 

Research and experience suggests that the impact of careers events is amplified when the person providing information to pupils about jobs and careers can draw on personal, first-hand experience of those professions. 

I had the privilege of launching Inspiring Construction last month at Ditton Park Academy in Slough. A new, state-of-the-art building – project managed by Mace – for a secondary school with big ambitions to show its students that their dreams can be achieved. 

I recited my own story to those students.

I started my career as a 16-year-old apprentice, and some 36 years later I am a group board director for a multibillion-pound, international company, Mace. I showed the students photographs of the buildings I am so proud to have been part of constructing. I was so impressed at the level of knowledge in the room – the students identified Birmingham New Street station and the Tate Modern and were very excited to see the new Spurs stadium taking shape in Tottenham. 

Seeing their eyes light up at the range of careers our industry has to offer and their surprise at the earning potential at different career stages made me resolve to dedicate more of my time to inspiring the next generation. I hope you will join me. 

Wouldn’t it be great also if – instead of retiring off into the sunset – our experienced project, commercial and technical staff were retained part-time, in the twilight of their career, to teach our youngsters how things should be done, passing down their knowledge to the next generation? 

If you want to be part of helping bring young people into the industry, Inspiring Construction will give you the tools you need and connect you to a school, college or university. In return, we need you to volunteer your time to share your story and engage people by being inspiring and passionate. 

We need to inspire the next generation with something we all know: that construction is a career like no other. We need to draw from everybody in the sector – from tier-one contractors to clients and all the way through the supply chain – to tell a powerful story to students about our sector. 

So we are calling on all of you in the industry to step up and share your pride at saying: “I built that, I love what I do, and this industry is open to everyone who wants to build the world we live in.” 

This article was originally published in Building Magazine

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