How can the UK make construction jobs attractive in the digital era?

  11 OCTOBER, 2017      INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
Tower blocks with cranes surrounding them

With growing demand for building services, an ageing population and a lack of fresh talent coming in, the construction industry has a momentous few years ahead of it.

In an age where youngsters are swayed by eye-catching tech jobs, it’s arguably getting much harder to nurture the next generation of tradespeople.

As a leading building services provider, Novus Property Solutions is well placed to discuss the issue.

We conducted a survey that revealed a huge 73% of the UK feel that schools and universities are not doing enough to raise awareness about the kinds of opportunities that the construction industry can offer.

Despite the fact that the industry saw its highest level of orders in Q2 last year – £13.4 billion, which was the biggest upswing since 2009 – skills shortages are still a huge problem.

 

So, how do we get more youngsters to forge a career in construction?

Commenting is Iain Bell, Managing Director at Minted Box, a communication portal for schools and local businesses looking to equip young people with work opportunities. Iain shared some insight on the current state of things within the industry.

“Currently, we’re seeing a real lack of awareness about the construction industry within education. Teachers tend to highlight the careers they are more familiar with, and without an accurate awareness of what construction entails, we are losing out on potential talent. 

“Better links between educational institutions and local construction businesses are needed to ensure that schools are equipped with the knowledge required to inform students about working in construction.”

He added: “A focus needs to be placed on how the work students do outside of school can help them acquire the skills they need to work in construction. 

“Schools cannot be expected to be experts about each and every sector, so they need to bring in voices from the professional world – those of businessmen and women who work in the industry and have real knowledge to share with the next generation”.

It seems that links between the education sector and construction need to improve. By forging relationships with businesses from the construction industry, we can alter the perception that construction lacks the glamour of more tech-focused professions.

 

We spoke to Paul Matthews, Managing Director at conservatory design specialists Auburn Hill who commented on the generalisations that can affect the desirability of a career in construction.

“It’s often seen as an old-fashioned, ‘old boys’ club’ style industry, with little career progression or job security; and in a world where millennial talent is becoming savvier to the career options available to them and the kind of environment and opportunities they want, construction seems to pass them by as one which isn’t viable or as successful. 

“In reality, none of those assumptions they make are true – construction is an industry which young talent should want to work in.”

It’s all about how the industry is portrayed to young people, and how its many opportunities are made clear.

 

Paul Matthews had a little more to say about construction in the digital era. In short, the building trade increasingly needs people with digital skills.

“The digital skills gap is currently costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion in lost GDP,” he remarked.

“With the construction industry [said to be] one of the sectors that is at the highest risk of computerisation, according to a study by Oxford University, unless workers’ digital skills are up to scratch then they could be losing out on the top jobs.”

Construction is not all hard hats and manual labour! Digital skills are transferable, and with the right skills under your belt, you could go far.

Head of HR at Novus Property Solutions, Stuart Cavanagh, thinks that things are starting to change for the better.

“With more information available to young people, the industry can begin to recruit young talent again and will meet the immense demand for its services,” he commented.

“Reiterating the quality and value of a career in construction will make a lasting impression on future generations. Of course, it begins with schools. How we intend to make construction appealing is completely dependent on our approach at the earliest stages of a person’s development.

“We have to be informed, understanding and focused – construction may not appeal to some, but it’s clear that the industry is missing out on recruiting some really talented people simply because of a lack of awareness.”

 

A wider selection of subjects

Schools and universities can also look to their syllabus and course, as there are certain subjects that provide skills that are completely integral to construction.

 

Iain Bell had a little more to say regarding the approach of schools and universities in promoting the industry:

“Students can only aspire to careers that they know about; a greater awareness of this industry would encourage more students to explore it as an option, and to understand how their skills could be of benefit to the industry. 

“With an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, it is the responsibility of teachers to better represent the industry as a fast-paced, creative and dynamic sector.”

Only last week Scottish Science Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville suggested that young people should consider STEM subjects, which are central to not only construction but also medicine, animal health and engineering.

 

More apprenticeships!

By increasing the availability of apprenticeships, we can continue to provide opportunities to young people who are informed and ready to begin a career in construction.

 

We spoke a little more to Paul Matthews, who commented on the need for more apprenticeship schemes as well as the quality of learning that the industry can offer.

“I think it’s difficult for young school leavers to find work in the field and learn a set skill unless they are lucky enough to join a company with internal training programs. 

“All our lead installers work with one junior labourer with a view to training them to become our future, glaziers, carpenters, bricklayers and ground workers. They earn a modest wage but learn all the skills necessary to command the going rate once their work is up to scratch and they show independence and competence.”

Once we have our learning approach secured and can confidently begin to recruit fresh talent, the industry will find its feet again.

Novus has a proud history of bringing apprentices through the ranks. You can read more about it here.

It isn’t just about making the industry more attractive to young people, however. The industry must, in turn, understand the motivations of young people. 

Paul Matthews ended with a summary of what young people look for in a career, and how learning should be at the forefront of our approach.

“A focus on schools and colleges educating students and young people on the opportunities that a career in construction can bring is needed, alongside the construction industry also improving their ties with those facilities,” he continued.

“In order to attract millennial talent, then, you need to ensure the following; an attractive salary and benefits package, development programme and continuous training.”

It’s clear that this is a two-way street. The industry must make itself more appealing to young people by understanding what drives them.

As they become more informed as to the plethora of opportunities open to them in various other paths, construction continues to become the one less travelled. With the above advice from Novus Property Solutions, the industry can begin to overcome the skills gaps that have blighted it for a number of years.
 

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