How can we inspire young people to join the construction sector?

5 min read

How can we inspire young people to join the construction sector? It’s a big question, and an increasingly urgent one. For years, we’ve seen too many people leave the sector and too few young people queuing up to replace them. 

Access to labour from outside the UK after Brexit is a real concern – the tap may get turned off very quickly. We are in fierce competition to attract a limited pool of talent, and currently we in construction are losing to other industries that are making a better pitch to the next generation. 

KPMG’s Richard Threlfall recently wrote in Building magazine that the construction industry requires a more joined-up approach to ensuring that it engages with young people across the country.

I agree with Richard about how important perception is. When I took up my role as chair of Build UK last September, I was clear that we needed to change perceptions of our industry. For too many people, the construction sector is still a macho world with long working hours, that brings to mind muddy boots and unpleasant working conditions. If we are to build a sustainable pipeline of young, diverse talent clamouring to join our industry, we are going to have to change that perception – and our most powerful tool to do that is our people. 

Almost anyone you meet who works in construction is bursting with pride about the things they’ve built and the impact their projects have had on the environment and the communities they work in. That’s why it is so powerful when those people go into schools across the UK and share their passion with pupils; their enthusiasm is contagious. 

I also agree with Richard that we need to ensure that there is a simple and straightforward path for young people into the construction sector. From the first time they meet someone who works in the sector to their first proper day on the job, there are several important milestones. At each stage, people drop out of the process and find jobs elsewhere. More than one-third of students who start a college course in a construction skill drop out and don’t enter the industry. 

If we can’t provide the clarity and the support that will help students move from one stage of their journey to the next, then shame on us! 

Where Richard and I perhaps differ is his suggestion that we need to provide new funding to the Construction Leadership Council to provide that oversight. 

Build UK is already looking at the whole pipeline and has identified areas of improvement where we can bolster the existing systems or provide additional resource. At the start of the pipeline, a collective and effective Construction Ambassadors programme will ensure that more school pupils across the country get a chance to hear from construction professionals and be inspired about the job they love. 

At the other end, we are proposing to pilot a UCAS-style system that will help to match qualified applicants with the right role and help employers locate the right talent at the same time. At the moment, many young people can’t find an apprenticeship, or they finish their training and struggle to find a route into employment. The right system would bring together those looking for a career in construction with employers seeking skills. 

We’re also engaged in every other stage of the process, from developing work experience for the new T levels and ensuring we have the right apprenticeship programmes, to supporting Go Construct and running Bridge into Construction in partnership with Collab Group and 11 colleges in providing young people with the skills employers are actually looking for.

I am often asked by those working in construction what more we can all do to support Build UK, and one very simple way that firms can help is to participate in Open Doors Week. We can really inspire people to join our industry if they come and see the work we do and talk to our people on our projects and in our offices and factories. 

Last year’s Open Doors was the most successful week we’ve had yet, with more than 270 sites opening their doors to more than 5,200 visitors. We know from the feedback we receive that seeing and hearing construction in action plays a hugely important role in transforming initial interest into a potential recruit. 

This is how we can all play our part in a very practical way. 

Open Doors 2019 will run from Monday 18 March to Saturday 23 March, and everyone across the sector can get involved by welcoming in visitors from schools, colleges and universities, as well as career changers, ex-military and ex‑offenders. Open Doors can have a big impact on anyone who is looking for their next career step or a new career challenge.

Working in partnership with the Construction Leadership Council, the government and the CITB, Build UK has a clear plan to take the next generation from “Ooh, that sounds interesting” through the right training and qualification route to “Fantastic – I love my job in construction and can see my future career”. 

If we all get behind a shared industry plan, we really can change perceptions and create a seamless talent pipeline for anyone and everyone that wants to join our industry.

This article was originally published in Building Magazine. Mark Castle is Chair of Build UK and Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Mace. 

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