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Do we really have an image problem?

Zak Garner-Purkis

Many in the construction industry have told me a major cause of the skills crisis is due to a lack of marketing.

Another frequently cited theory is that the image of the sector doesn’t appeal to children.

So it was a surprise to me this Christmas when I stumbled across a kid’s film which featured a construction worker as the main protagonist.

The everyman hero of the movie is guided by a diverse band of ‘master builders’ that literally use their construction skills to build their way past every challenge.

The film was, for those that haven’t guessed, the Lego Movie, which also turned out to be pretty popular at the box office grossing around half a billion worldwide.

Children were inspired by the movie too, with Lego struggling to cope with the strength of demand for its little bricks following the film’s release.

It’s far from the first mainstream on-screen construction worker star, as from Postman Pat’s mate Ted Glen to Bob the Builder, there have consistently been positive depictions of our industry targeted at the younger generations.

It makes you wonder how can there be a lack of skilled workers? What stops children swapping Lego blocks for bricks and mortar when they grow up?

Well one explanation is quite simple: there is a distinct shortcoming when it comes to presenting the opportunities available for a career in construction.

Today I used the official government apprenticeships finder to search for ‘construction’ related roles and found only 135 opportunities in the whole of England.

Compare that to the term ‘hairdressing’ which displays 774 related positions on the same internet resource.

It seems apprentice roles either don’t exist (obviously not the case) or are hidden from those who might want to find them.

Considering the government portal would be a reliable starting point for candidates that had little to no knowledge of the industry, it’s very disappointing how few construction related roles are being advertised there.

While any number of construction firms invest time in outreach work, or producing mascots for school visits, it might help if they could get the positions onto the official government finder.

Marketing is one thing, but it’s doomed to failure if the opportunities aren’t made accessible.

Readers' comments (3)

  • When do ‘children’ stop playing with Lego? (other plastic ‘construction’ toys are available). How many ‘teen’s’ play with / use Lego?

    When do we decide what job we’re doing? As a child or a teen?

    I’m a Chartered Engineer AND a AFOL (Adult Fan Of Lego), I’m an exception!

    Of course we have a bl@@dy image problem!!!! To say otherwise is pure fallacy and the highest level of denial! Construction hasn’t changed, as I’ve cited in the comments before since the Romans. It’s still seen as physically hard and dirty work, at relatively low pay. It’s also seen as a trade and ‘uninspired’, not glamorous, not needing a ‘University Education’.

    Under present society norms these are NOT good things. It’s hardly ‘X Factor’ fame and fortune is it!

    I haven’t touched on the ‘wider societal’ issues of build quality (new build housing stock, ridiculous bonuses at the top) fire and replacement cladding, etc. None of these issues attract people into the industry OR make us ‘inspiring’. Articles like this make me truly despair of the industry.......

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  • An interesting piece and I agree that there is definitely more to be done in order to promote careers within the Construction Industry amongst young people.

    However, to base the notion that apprenticeship opportunities "are hidden from those who might want to find them" on the results of what you have found by searching the word 'construction' through this portal is lazy journalism in my opinion.

    The traffic that comes through the government portal is insignificant in comparison to the sites with information on apprenticeships such as Notgoingtouni & RMA. Not to mention the fact that the NAS has commissioned the AmazingApprenticeships website as the approved channel for up to date information on current opportunities - this is where students are actually officially directed by schools and careers services.

    There is also no mention of the vast presence of Construction companies and firms at national careers events such as Skills London or the industries significant involvement in promoting national apprenticeship week either.

    The industry may well have an image problem but it is definitely not as a result of what you have found on this portal.

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  • The article's point about construction having an image problem is a good one. That marketing is wholly responsible is not correct. Firstly, there's a business function called recruiting. Secondly, the image problem is partly because people associate construction with builders. Builders are unfortunately only imagined as unskilled strong men. Walk past a building site and it's hard to persuade anyone otherwise. People rarely consider the other jobs in the industry, and do not associate construction with architecture or engineering. There's a long way to go and everyone in the industry should take responsibility for changing it.

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