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View from the classroom: Schools demand engagement

It is a tough climate for the construction industry, as the hard-hitting Farmer Review set out last month.

The report highlighted that construction is viewed as a rather insular industry, unwilling to embrace change and innovation.

Clearly this view needs to be challenged and the many myths surrounding construction dispelled. However, changing perceptions is not an easy task and one that the industry cannot do alone.

Lack of early engagement in schools and ongoing negative attitudes from teachers are preventing much-needed young talent from entering the industry.

The key recommendation from this latest review is that the CITB, government and wider industry must work together with colleges and schools to dispel these myths and challenge the stereotypes. By reaching out to more diverse audiences, the industry can take on a more modern image and become a more attractive option for young people.

From my perspective, as deputy principal of a college, I agree with this recommendation whole-heartedly.

Two-way street

Employment opportunities in construction are wide-ranging and set to increase even more over the coming years. We want to offer our students the very best training and indeed careers advice, to equip them with the skill and knowledge they require to enter sustained and fulfilling jobs within the sector.

Without engaging fully with employers, it is not possible to offer this all-important ‘workplace insight’ to our students. It is a two-way street of course – we need to know what employers require before we develop our comprehensive training and study programmes. Then, as a result of this collaboration, employers will develop a pipeline of well-trained talent to help grow their businesses.

“Our Career College will offer a pathway right through to degree-level study and apprenticeships, leading ultimately into work”

In Gateshead, we are pioneering several initiatives to help address the long-standing issues of recruitment within the construction industry while also helping to improve the image of the industry overall.

The PlanBEE project was launched by Ryder Architecture in 2013. It is supported by a powerful partnership of designers, engineers, builders and project managers who came together to campaign for change and to address the skills gap.

This partnership then expanded further, joining forces with Gateshead College to devise a new higher-level skills programme, which recruited its first cohort in 2016.

Fully equipped

Following this success of PlanBEE, we are launching a Career College, which will be opening its doors to students in September 2017. Specialising in architecture and construction management, young people from the age of 14 will be able to join us, studying for key GCSEs at school alongside expert training at college.

Our Career College will offer a pathway right through to degree-level study and apprenticeships, leading ultimately into work. Employers including Ryder Architecture, Cundall and Xsite Architecture are helping us design and shape the curriculum to ensure our students will be fully equipped with the skills needed by industry.

There is no silver bullet to solve the skills crisis within our sector. Changing perceptions will not happen overnight.

However, with the collaboration of employers and colleges, as well as the willingness to be innovative and embrace change, we will all be in a far better position to help the construction industry get the credit it is due.

Chris Toon is deputy principal at Gateshead College

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