What’s Wrong With The Image Of Construction?

I attended CIMCIG’s Chairman’s Debate, A younger view on the Image of Construction, which addressed the issue of the industry’s image.

The spin on this particular event was that the debate was held amongst a cohort of younger professionals, sourced from across the industry.

In this way they were able to voice their frustrations and offer suggestions on how to improve the image of the industry, to encourage people, just like them, to enter the profession, as it offers all, if not more, rewards than other sectors, that seem on the surface, to be more relevant to the youth of today.

In what was a very passionate debate, with each panel member admitting that they 'fell into the industry' (hands up who hasn’t), the debate was opened up to find answers as to what needs to change to fill the, ever widening, skills gap.

The first thoughts from the floor were that the ‘industry’ is too wide, with too many disparate industry bodies represented that restrict it from having a singular voice. A voice, that the panel recognised, had been achieved by the automotive industry in its attempts to lobby the government. The idea that the construction sector could come together as one was felt to be impossible and instead it should be the biggest brands within the industry that should step forward to shout loud about how many differing careers can be had within construction, from the obvious – architects, surveyors, engineers, through to the wider roles of finance, legal, HR and marketing roles that every successful organisation requires.

However, the debate kept coming back to the skills gap and how are we going to attract vast numbers in order to fulfil the housing and infrastructure projects that this country needs to deliver over the next 20 years?

My thoughts kept coming back to the fact that if the construction industry needs to change its image, then it first needs to work out who it is trying to talk to (as discussed earlier, too many organisations, too many voices, not enough time and money to do this). Or to state it simply, define your target audience and having done so, what are the key messages that you need to get across to this audience?

Looking at the professional end, are we really struggling to fill architecture, engineering and surveying posts in the UK? Firstly, take a look at what this country has achieved in the last 10 years, taking a snapshot from the Olympics, through to the Shard, Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel. With the top 10 architecture schools in the UK requiring at least AAB at A Level to join, are we struggling for talent? All of these are full, as are the next 10 schools on the list. The same can be said for university courses in engineering and surveying, again all requiring top A Levels to get in.

Somehow a lot of young people are finding their way onto these courses without too much difficulty. After all, if they are achieving AAA at A Level (for Cambridge, Bath and UCL), then surely if the world of study is their oyster and yet they choose courses in the built environment, is there really an image problem???

What was agreed in the room is that the public perception of working in the trades is really poor, not helped by most people having been on the receiving end of some sort of rogue trader. If not at first hand, then at least seeing endless exposés on TV.

So, is it the image of the building trades (e.g. bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians) that the industry really needs to address? Again, going back to the central theme of too large an industry, too many messages, then why not address something that is viable and desperately required in the short term, i.e. engaging and enthusing the youth of the UK that there are well paid careers to be had in construction?

So, how do we overcome this?

Surely the answer has to be through engaging kids at an early age, when at school.

Now, have a think back to your time at school, or if you have kids, what lessons are relevant to construction? More pointedly, for the trades? Let’s consider the ’hands on’, practical or vocational, courses available on the syllabus that might engage younger minds, in order to get them excited about the building industry.

It’s not until they are 16 and have the choice of doing BTECs that construction would even come into their line of thinking.

And then, a revelation.

A member of the panel introduced DEC! (Design..Engineer..Construct), an accredited learning programme for secondary-school age students, offering, well they describe it well on their website, ‘In line with the need to deliver a 21st Century curriculum for a 21st Century industry, all qualifications for DEC! have been renamed ‘Design Engineer Construct! The Digital Built Environment’.

‘Design Engineer Construct! The Digital Built Environment’ provides students with valuable opportunities throughout their education to gain the knowledge and practical skills they’ll need to embark on an exciting career in the Construction and Built Environment sector of industry. These qualification routes raise achievement in literacy, numeracy and STEM subjects.

Level 1, 2 & 3 Qualifications in ‘Design Engineer Construct! The Digital Built Environment’ are based on coursework with a multiple choice test at Level 1, and grading exams for Level 2 and 3.

However, if you hadn’t heard of this, then the most encouraging element is that the programme has now been formally recognised in Scotland thanks to the key support of the Chartered Institute of Building.

So now that Scotland has formally recognised the qualification, perhaps now is the time for the industry to talk this scheme up, countrywide.

The industry has its platform; it just needs to get behind it. After all, in a sector that has embraced digital technologies from BIM enabled 3D walk throughs on VR headsets, through to the potential of robots surveying sites, this now talks the same language and has the same tools that any gaming teenager, sat in their bedroom, can relate to.

So, is this the point at which the construction industry can change its image and get young people considering it as their primary career choice?

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