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Recruiting the web generation

With an eye to the future firms are using social networking sites to entice teenagers

The eternal question: how do you get tomorrow’s managers to consider a career in construction? As you read this, the project directors of 2030 are more likely to be worrying about who’s doing what on Messenger, Bebo or Second Life than considering their career options as a site manager or quantity surveyor.

For those of us without teenage children, Messenger, Bebo and Second Life are social networking websites where many teenagers spend a lot of their free time chatting to friends, looking at their photos and uploading videos.

ConstructionSkills has recently launched its Positive Image recruitment campaign using a profile on Bebo, called ‘ConstructionGirl121’.

It features consultant Chrissi McCarthy and her friends who all work in the industry. Users can read blogs, ask questions and vote for the coolest and ugliest buildings, and the site is moderated by Ms McCarthy and other ‘construction ambassadors’ who can respond to any negative or stereotypical postings.

Targeting teenagers

It is the first time that this kind of website has been used in the annual campaign. Nicola Thompson, ConstructionSkills’ director of communications and marketing, explains why.

“Promoting construction careers has been something that employers have always said was important. We asked young people where they were spending their time. We know they are turning off their TV set. The question was how do you get to young people and get some cut-through. The best way is to go online,” she says.

But Ms Thompson says that it was initially difficult to get employers, who may be used to seeing images in traditional media, to appreciate the activity.

“The challenge is showing employers that we are doing this - they aren’t likely to stumble across it,” she says.

The campaign’s effectiveness can be easily measured. “Bebo was by far the best fit for us. There have been 100,000 extra hits to bconstructive [the careers website]. That’s the beauty of this sort of media. If the sites aren’t performing we can just switch them off,” she says.

Bebo’s users are aged from 11 to 19. NG Bailey is also trying to get younger people interested, says Joanne Mitchell, the firm’s head of resourcing. “We are trying to get into the world of the younger person from 11 and up. They MSN each other rather than talking to each other, they receive and gather information that way.

“While we as employers may spend less time consuming new media, we need to be aware of what the next generation is doing.

“From an employer point of view you can’t afford to miss out. I’m more mature but you have to think from a younger person’s point of view. It’s the same for them as getting a pen out of a pencil case,” she says.

Virtual promotion

Networking and virtual world sites can also be used to get a brand message across to those who are not yet actively thinking about a career.

Second Life allows users to create their own virtual world in which they can become a ‘resident’, build their own home and community and get a job. Mat Small, director of media strategy at Millionsofus, which describes itself as ‘an agency specialising in virtual worlds’, says employers can’t afford to ignore these sites.

“A generation reared on games and the web is now entering the workforce and they have high expectations about the use of technology to make work more efficient and fun.

“Employers can make use of virtual worlds to make global teams more cohesive and design processes more effective. Intel, Cisco, Warner Brothers and Sony have led the way, and leaders in other sectors are also beginning to make aggressive use of these tools,” he says.

Atkins is looking at Second Life, among other activity, to attract a wider audience and to get the brand known, as Marlon Franklin, its resourcing team leader, explains.

“We’re looking at how you can have a presence rather than using online job boards.

People don’t go to the sites to look for a job, so advertising might not work. It’s getting the message across about our core values in a subtle and conversational way,” he says. The firm is considering how to make the site work for it.

“We need to make it true to Atkins and we don’t want to use gimmicks because it will turn people off. You can have a visual presence and use it for information rather than applying for a job, but we need to discuss how branded it should be,” he says.

Atkins also uses virtual careers fairs, where a company has a ‘booth’ and potential recruits can discuss roles with a manager via an instant messaging service.

But while the virtual world is important, having contact with real people is still vital. Ms Mitchell says: “There’s always that personal side to it, there is always a role for it. It’s how we combine and use them.”

The most popular networking sites

Facebook has eight million users in the UK and three million of these are graduates aged 20 to 25. www.facebook.com. Users can create a profile, make friends, send messages and upload photographs but there are several thousand other applications available.

Bebo’s users are younger, with 30 per cent aged 13 to 15 and 28 per cent aged 18 to 24, with about 12 million users in the UK www.bebo.com Users create a profile, add friends and write blogs.

Second Life has 13.5 million ‘residents’ who can create an avatar, form groups and create and own everything in the ‘world’. They build their own houses and cars and can buy and sell products and services using the Linden dollar, a currency they can buy online. It has a teen version, for 13 to 17 year olds. IBM, Toyota and AOL have opened shops where they can test new products. www.secondlife.com

Some firms are advertising on My Kinda Place www.mykindaplace.com which is for teenage girls and has 600,000 users in the UK.

For related articles see:

Building a website that works

How to take advantage of social networking

"Social networking sites are now part of the media mix. We consider our target audience's total media consumption in their job, lifestyle, profession and when they are job seeking. We don’t just target the active jobseeker," says Caroline Hill, director of specialist recruitment ad agency, Blackbridge>

"Very traditional recruiters are finding it hard to recruit. There are so many different channels open to jobseekers.

"People use the net for leisure consumption and it’s part of the media mix for passive jobseekers. It’s very much under 25s on these sites and Bebo is slightly younger," she says.

"You can advertise on some social networking sites with banners, skyscrapers and flyers – but you have to be careful that you are not just targeting a particular age because of the age discrimination act.

"You could have a company profile on Facebook but I’m not sure what degree of success it would have. You can see their members' ages, gender and location. But the networking sites are still very protective of their users unless you are a huge brand they wouldn’t but you can advertise. They are slightly wary of taking ads on.

"With Second Life people are starting up a spoof business which looks and sounds like the same business but it is pretend. They still see the same messages.

"On MSN the minimum spend is £5000 so if you are using it for recruitment and only have one or two posts to recruit for then cost per enquiry can work out quite high.

"The issue that the construction industry faces is whether it is a desirable career – it needs to be dispelled and demystifyed to a certain extent and these sites can help do that."