‘Construction’: what are the public’s first thoughts when they hear that word?
Initial perceptions are generally that of muddy, low-paid manual labour, without any ambitions or aspirations. More recently, this has contributed to create a picture of the industry as something of a ‘failures club’.
But from what I can see as a female subcontractor, we are an important and unique sector, yet our talents are underrated and underappreciated. Nearly everything that surrounds the built environment depends on us, yet there is little appreciation for the individuals who power the industry.
Why are we and the public still on different pages? And why, as representatives of the industry, are we not doing more to educate the public about what we do?
Entry routes create misunderstanding
It is to the industry’s credit that there are a growing number of initiatives designed to foster a diverse workforce. For example, programmes designed to find employment for ex-offenders and former military personnel within the industry have a huge social value.
Unfortunately, the public perception this leads to is one where individuals who have been unable to find work elsewhere join construction. This is reinforced in schools and colleges, as construction apprenticeships are often suggested by teachers when a student is struggling to improve their grades.
“We need to emulate this and create a platform of league tables for apprenticeships, aligning ourselves with the competitive nature of millennials”
This has contributed to a situation where construction professionals are seen less favourably in comparison to accountants, lawyers or bankers.
I faced this stigma myself when I decided to join the industry. It’s hard enough trying to enter a sector that is not a conventional choice for people of your race, religion, generation or even gender, let alone having the world judge the decision too.
Could apprenticeship league tables help?
Universities have league tables, with associations such as the Russell Group of universities creating aspirations for students to aim for.
We need to emulate this and create a platform of league tables for apprenticeships, aligning ourselves with the competitive nature of millennials.
During the 2016/17 academic year, construction, planning and the built environment had the fifth highest number of entrants into apprenticeship programmes. To place in context, this only accounts for 5 per cent of the 14 subject areas monitored by the Department for Education.
The two subject areas leading the 2016/17 table were health, public services and care, and business, administration and law, with 26.6 per cent and 26.2 per cent of apprenticeships entrants.
There is a lot of anticipation around the proposed T-level courses, with the hope that they will help improve the image of vocational training.
“We are too humble as an industry and hold back on our great achievements”
At university level, however, architecture, building and planning (not accounting for engineering) received the 18th highest number of applications out of 26 Ucas categories. This equates to 45,630 – just 1.6 per cent of all university applications, though very similar to the number of apprenticeship entrants (42,580).
No doubt the low level of applications at apprenticeship and university level is rooted in the public’s perception of our industry.
Tell the world, not just peers
To bridge the image gap, we need to do a better job of promoting the work done across the sector. We are too humble as an industry and hold back on our great achievements.
Why is it that construction is only spoken about for negative reasons – Carillion being the latest example – rather than for the sake of showcasing our positives?
Great examples of achievements are usually only recognised on smaller platforms within our industry. Take the Livery Companies in London, which raise money through their charitable trusts to then support scholarships and recognise those achieving academically.
Until successes are better celebrated, innovations better showcased and opportunities better understood, the public will continue to think of this industry as a failures club.
Anjali Pindoria is a project surveyor at Avi Contractors