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Wates chief: “We need to do a better job boasting about what we do”

Wates Group chairman and chief executive Paul Dreschler has urged construction leaders to come together in strategic engagement to “transform education” in the UK, or risk stagnation in the industry.

“There are huge reasons to be proud about what we do in this industry and I just wonder if we couldn’t all do a better job boasting about what we do”, he told delegates at the Joint Contracts Tribunal Povey Lecture last night.

“[Construction] tends to get more fame for what we do wrong than lasting fame for what we do right – we have to treasure our reputation, we have to have to work on building the brand.”

Mr Dreschler added that he believed the industry could attract top-quality talent, but warned that “if we don’t educate, if we don’t change those rankings, the only thing that is certain is that the UK will fall further and further over the next 50 years.”

“The construction industry really matters, it really counts, and I believe it really cares”

Paul Dreschler, Wates chairman and chief executive

The lecture, entitled “At the Crossroads –a wasted generation or inspired talent? The power to choose”, said construction leaders were “uniquely placed” to make a “big and positive difference”.

“The construction industry is very much a people industry”, he continued, “the homes and offices that we put our names to are built by people, for people.”

Mr Dreschler, who serves as a board member of Business in the Community and vice chair of the Prince’s Trust Construction and Business Services leadership group, said education was key to helping disadvantaged young people and to ensuring the competitiveness of British construction.

“Our industry has to compete internationally,” he said, citing research that ranked the UK as 29th in the world in numeracy and 16th in science, where six years previously it had been eighth and fourth, respectively.

Mr Dreschler said that if the underlying problems weren’t addressed, a shortfall of 80-90,000 skilled workers annually could face the industry, and that “we will become less competitive and the challenges will become even greater in the future.”

“You could say that this [talent] pool is stagnant rather than sparkling.”

He said “smart collaboration” through initiatives like Business Class, which partners construction and engineering firms with secondary schools to provide the skills needed for modern work, were key to boosting the sector and self-esteem among young people.

“These [disadvantaged] people have something they’ve probably never had before – hope and opportunity. The demand is there, and the results of strategic long-term engagement can be very impressive.”

“The construction industry really matters, it really counts, and I believe it really cares. Perhaps the greatest different we can make is in raising aspirations.”

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