Sitting in on a class of 14-year old boys is less intimidating than might be expected.
The holidays may be starting this week, but before school broke up Construction News managed to get in a quick lesson on construction and the built environment and to find out what motivates young people to join the industry.
The class was held at Newham Sixth Form College and was made up of pupils from schools in the London Borough of Newham.
It was one of several ‘taster’ sessions being run across the country for the Construction and the Built Environment Diploma, which starts properly in September.
In spite of the looming end of term euphoria, the pupils sat quietly as teacher Jim Lawrence briefed them to design an Olympic athlete’s ‘pod’.
All they were given was a rectangular footprint design on an A4 sheet, with one external door and two windows, and they had to fit in a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining area, lounge, internal doors and storage.
This was made into a 3D model and presented to the rest of the class in teams.
The only time there were whispers while Mr Lawrence was speaking was when the boys were incredulous to discover that their teacher had only ever been to McDonald’s twice.
But questions such as: “Can it have two toilets?”, “Can we put internal walls in?” and bizarrely, “Can we put in mosquito nets?” then came thick and fast.
When asked about which aspects of construction they were interested in, many focused on professions such as architecture and quantity surveying, with only a few talking about trades.
This is to do with the way that the diploma has been sold to them, says Mr Lawrence, who is the 14-19 cross-college curriculum manager at Newham Sixth Form College.
“We explained that they didn’t have to be bricklayers, they can aim to be site managers or structural engineers.
“There’s a lot of good stuff they can aim for and we hardly talk about manual trades,” he says.
Girls are less keen
Trying to change the ‘dirty’ perceptions of the industry could be working at this level – and certainly for boys. But it seems that here at least, girls are less keen. “Girls don’t want to get dirty or don’t like heights,” says pupil Lamin Frazer from Royal Docks Community School.
Mr Lawrence feels there may be more to do to convince girls to think about construction as a career, though events in the borough have attracted both boys and girls. “I guess some of it is the image or the parents don’t want their daughters to be doing construction.
“It’s getting people aware and convincing the parents that there are good career pathways and opportunities for young people. If we are going to attract young girls we have to put girls up as role models,” he says.
There are about 3,100 pupils signed up to the diploma, but figures are not yet available by gender. ConstructionSkills says that anecdotally the number of girls opting for the diploma is limited, as may be expected.
“There is certainly work to be done to change young people’s perceptions, girls in particular, in terms of what they can expect to learn studying the C&BE diploma,” says a spokesman. The pupils seem to understand that the industry could give them the chance to learn skills such as team building. They also thought that construction could be well-paid.
“What made me decide to do construction are the opportunities you get to do and learn. I also like the money,” says Louis Veuteuilla from St Bonaventures school.
Mr Lawrence is keen to get contractors on board, but knows that SMEs may not have the resources to pay for trainees, so he has made a suggestion that they could share them with larger employers.
He says: “One idea I suggested was to share a trainee but the response was that he wouldn’t even share a cup of tea let alone an employee. “It’s up to the main contractors to do their best and not just pass it down the food chain. It’s time for them to get involved.”
He is keen for them to offer work experience to young people, though he appreciates the health and safety concerns. “There are ways of getting them on site which wouldn’t infringe health and safety issues such as working in the site office or going on an organised visit. If the will is there we can overcome such problems.”
What the kids thinks about construction
What has got them interested in the industry? “When I see people building things on TV it’s exciting. I want to build places, especially when people haven’t got a home,” says Lamin Frazer from Royal Docks Community School.
Damian Obuchowicz from St Bonaventures was straight to the point about his interests. “It’s the perfect route to becoming a successful architect. It’s practical, we do Design and Technology at school so I thought it would be the best option,” he said.
Schoolmate Dudley Cline says he realised how broad the industry is: “I think of construction as a place where you build houses, but as I got to know more, I knew that there was lots of stuff such as architecture, engineering as well as electricians,” he says.
A few mentioned family influence: “My dad is an electrician and I heard that this course will lead me to engineering. My parents thought I’d chosen the right one.
“I know that it will be useful for our lifetime,” says Ginojan Jesurajah. And the Olympics featured, as might be expected: “My mum was happy with me picking construction because I was thinking about my future.
“I know where all the main buildings for the industries are in my area and also what will happen in Newham for the Olympics in terms of buildings and facilities,” says Ayo Ogbeide.
The Construction Qualification Strategy
The Construction Qualification Strategy (CQS) will help develop a highly-trained, world-class workforce to make companies more competitive, productive and profitable.
It sets out a new structure for qualifications, developed by the industry for the industry.
The construction industry is already a leader in training and development - more than 1,000 construction firms in England have already committed to improving employees’ basic skills by signing up to the Government’s Skills Pledge.
The CQS will help us take this desire to improve skills and qualifications to the next level.
In developing the CQS, ConstructionSkills worked with exam regulators, awarding bodies and manufacturers to look at skills and qualifications across the board.
We spent two years consulting with firms and stakeholders to ensure the new strategy represented their needs.
This revealed firms were:
• Fed up with workers having qualifications that didn’t help the day to day work of the business
• Frustrated they had to supervise colleagues because they didn’t have the right skills
• Concerned young people were coming to the industry poorly prepared for work and lacking the basic expected skills
Addressing these concerns was central to developing the CQS and we’ve developed action plans to look at some twenty strands of work to do this. The strategy will constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of the sector at all levels and will provide a basis for future qualification planning and development, giving firms support to expand and improve business and workers the skills needed to do the job.
In response to employers’ calls for the broadening of apprenticeships, we’re looking at initiatives where apprentices can study important skills such as estimating and planning, as well as related subjects such as fibrous & solid plastering, broadening their skills base and increasing their employability.
We’re also working with a range of bodies to pilot the new Apprenticeship Diploma, which integrates all of the existing apprenticeship components into one. In addition, we’ve established 16 specialist apprenticeships - bespoke but flexible programmes which meet the resource needs of specialist contractors, manufacturers and federations.
These developments aim to improve apprenticeship completion rates, reduce registration and qualification costs and make it easier for employers, learners, and their parents, to understand them.
The Construction and the Built Environment Diploma was developed in conjunction with industry and launches in England in September. As well as achieving a minimum standard of Maths, English and ICT, students will complete a project and periods of work experience ensuring we have better skilled entrants to the workforce.
ConstructionSkills is working with Higher Education to help fund a hands-on construction experience for undergraduate students and young professionals – Construcitonarium – which helps them put theory into practice and build bridges with industry.
Reviewing the current list of qualifications has seen the list of qualifications reduce from 3,000 to 500, ensuring that only the most effective remain. We’re also looking at where gaps exist and working with industry to develop new qualifications we need – such as in Innovative Methods of Construction.
To make these easier to understand, 2008 will see the launch of an online qualifications database enabling learners to instantly find the qualification or pathway they need to take to achieve their goals.
We’re also implementing new ways of delivering qualifications that fit the industry better. For example the one-day Experienced Workers Practical Assessment, developed and awarded by Construction Awards Alliance, enables people with a lot of experience but no formal qualification to obtain NVQs.
The Construction Qualification Strategy will simplify and improve qualifications in our sector, improving their relevance and making them easier for students and employers to understand. It will provide the answer to qualifications and skills questions, and help the sector best meet the challenges that lie ahead of us.
For more information go to
Nick Gooderson is head of standards at ConstructionSkills