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From video games to construction - how we can attract young people to the industry

Now that the GCSE and A Level results are out, many young adults across the UK will be deciding what to do next.

Many will feel overwhelmed with the choice and uncertainty. And while the economy is on its way to recovery, it’s young people who are struggling the most to find a job.

At the same time, demand in the construction industry is picking up, with construction CEOs citing recruitment as one of their top concerns, exacerbated by the many skilled professionals due to retire in coming years. Now is the time to match industry growth with new recruits.

Construction has an ageing workforce, not helped by the lack of recruitment during the recession. 

The CITB expects 450,000 industry employees to retire over the next 10 years and anticipate that the industry will need 182,000 new recruits over the next five years (according to their recent ‘No More Lost Generations’ parliamentary report).

So how do we square this circle and ensure that young people see construction as a valuable, skilful and long term sustainable career?

While those of us working in the industry know the variety of skills and disciplines needed, we need to update the general perception of construction. At Mace, as is the case across the sector, our people come from a range of backgrounds with varying skills sets – from civil engineering to architecture, from law to communications.

One of our young trainees responsible for BIM at the Birmingham New Street station redevelopment is a good example of how things have changed. He joined Mace a couple of years ago after studying video gaming at college.

Working in the construction industry was not an industry where he’d thought he would end up, but his skills have proved to be highly transferable and he has made a valuable contribution to the project, and recently won the Best New Entrant category at Network Rail’s national VIP awards.

Not only do we need hundreds more examples like him across all parts of our industry, but we need to use this diverse talent to attract more people to join the industry.

To do that we need role models that not only young people can look up to, but for their parents, careers advisers and teachers too. And we all have our part to play.

Campaigns such as UKCG’s Born to Build, supported by Construction News, and the government’s #BuildingBritain campaign on social media all look to engage with young people in a space where they meet, showcasing the passion and enthusiasm and opportunities that the sector holds.

At Mace, we are looking to engage with young people from relatively early on in their education. 

We’re using a variety of ways to attract young people to the industry – from inviting teenagers to visit our construction sites and offices through UKCG’s Open Doors programme, to Budding Brunels with the Construction Youth Trust and Mace’s own Careers in Construction programme, offering 15-17 year olds a week-long opportunity to gain work experience in the construction sector.

The industry is better now at creating grassroots initiatives and is starting to be more joined up through STEM campaigns, Science Week and other initiatives coordinated by industry bodies.  But if we are going to meet the number of new recruits that we will need to compete with more ‘glamorous’ sectors, we need to raise our recruitment game.

Do we have the ability to meet this challenge head on? The answer lies in the work we all do every day. Our industry is renowned for its ability to solve problems for our clients. Here’s a problem that’s ours, but I believe we can solve it.

David Rowbotham is director of socio-economics and safety at Mace


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