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'I built that' isn't enough for the next generation

Tom Fitzpatrick

Chairing our CN Rising Stars roundtable last week (to be published online this Thursday), I was struck by the way intelligent young people are being made to fight to get a break in this industry.

Whether they had studied at university or not, come from a family background in construction or otherwise, here were 11 intelligent people who wanted a long-term career in the industry.

Yet they all agreed that just getting a foot in the door was hard and sometimes involved having to send in hundreds of applications.

I asked how many people had careers in construction recommended to them by a careers adviser at school and not one hand went up.

This isn’t unusual, but most of the people around the table are now going into schools to teach kids about the industry and change perceptions, like so many companies are doing too. So why isn’t the dial shifting?

The CITB issued a report last week on skills transferability which found the construction industry is unlikely to systematically try to encourage people from other sectors to switch careers.

It found that 62 per cent of construction employers have made no attempt to get workers to transfer between trades, and more than half haven’t tried to recruit workers from other sectors in the last two years.

One exception is work with ex-armed forces personnel (with larger firms in particular doing work in this area).

Many of our rising stars set out to study subjects that could have led them to different industries, from business and fine arts to physics and maths. Some worked on sites while studying; others went straight into trades rather than going to university.

Each voiced different ideas at our roundtable about how to improve the industry’s reputation, and each is now successfully pursuing a career in construction, identified by our CN Awards judges as a rising star in their business.

So why aren’t we seeing more people with transferable skills (if not, necessarily, qualifications) being asked to consider a career in construction? With 500,000 workers set to retire in the next decade, we all know they’re needed.

One possible problem here is that fewer younger people are willing to have work conditions imposed upon them – say, for example, working on sites where they will be forced to work away from home and family for extended periods of time.

Since joining the industry in 2011, I have been repeatedly made aware of the pride people take in working on projects, that they can say, ‘I built that’. It’s a powerful selling point for the industry.

But what I took away from our roundtable is that the ‘I built that’ pride is just one part of what the next generation of leaders want. It’s not enough just to say, ‘You will work on great projects’, and hope that inspires them to seek a long-term career in construction.

New generations entering the workforce want to work for employers who care – about them, communities, the environment and more. They want a job that inspires, that challenges, but allows them to have a healthy work-life balance.

It’s imperative that the next generation of leaders not only take responsibility for the industry’s reputation, but also help to shape their own employers’ recruitment of the next generations of talent.

The CN Rising Star roundtable, in association with the CITB, will be published on Thursday. The inaugural winner of the Rising Star award will be announced at the CN Awards on 12 July.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Over the past few months I have given many tool box talks to raise the awareness of the mental health issues within the industry. One question I always ask is "put your hand in the air if you would recommend a career in construction to your children" I can tell you very few hands get raised.
    The bottom line is that parents are often the biggest influencers on their children's career decisions and if we cannot get the people working in our industry to endorse a career in our industry, then I doubt if any major schools education programme will be entirely successful. The only way we can get the parents in the industry onside is to continue on our journey to improve their conditions at work and accelerate automation and the use of technology to entice the young people in ? This is a long journey but one the industry needs to unify and get behind.

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