After a year of consultation and careful consideration, the Building the Future Commission has published its final report. In this chapter, Ben Flatman considers the challenges facing construction in its quest to employ the brightest and best

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The economic and technological environment is changing at breakneck speed, but the industry is not always quick to respond. Construction and its associated professions need to embrace change, flexibility and innovation. They also need to work harder to engage and excite future generations to seek a career in the industry.  

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>> Download the full commission report: The long-term plan for construction

Breaking down silos 

Linear career paths and jobs for life are more than ever a distant memory for most people working in the construction industry. Increasingly people move between professions and industries and expect to be challenged and rewarded in new ways over time. 

Construction needs to recognise this change and embrace it, by helping deliver greater flexibility in employment, and promoting a culture in which transferable skills are valued and sought after.  

Rebuilding vocational education 

The UK has long struggled with the quality and consistency of its vocational education. Both parents and young people tend to see vocational education as inferior to more academic routes. As a result, construction often fails to attract the best and the brightest, appearing to be a last-resort default career choice for those who did not achieve academically. 

This is not only selling construction short – it’s letting down successive generations of young people, who are potentially missing out on a rewarding, highly skilled and well remunerated career in construction. 

The government has taken steps to remedy the situation by introducing new technical qualifications – T-levels – which theoretically have the same UCAS weighting as A-levels. But the proposed Advanced British Standard qualification now risks sowing confusion and undermining efforts to establish T-levels as a high-status alternative to A-levels. 

The UK needs a 15- to 20-year strategy for vocational education with input from business leaders, local leaders and educationalists. In addition, and as a practical first step, the commission calls on the next government to implement one of the key recommendations of the Times Education Commission in 2022 to set up elite technical and vocational sixth forms with close links to industry, known as career academies. 

New routes into the professions 

The UK construction and design professions are some of the most respected in the world, with chartered RIBA architects and RICS surveyors, for example, being highly regarded and sought after by firms and individuals. However, access to the professions is too often restricted along lines of wealth and inherited advantage. 

Change is already happening in architecture, where apprenticeships are providing cost-effective, earn-while-you-learn alternatives to university education. Additional proposed reforms to architectural education could open up routes for graduates holding non‑cognate degrees. 

We need new ways of thinking about careers in construction that make it easier for individuals to move across what have traditionally been silos within the industry

We need new ways of thinking about careers in construction that make it easier for individuals to move across what have traditionally been silos within the industry, thereby allowing people to share knowledge and experience and strengthening the sector’s skills base. 

>> Also read: Views on why an apprenticeship is better than university

Promoting lifelong learning and career mobility 

Institutions such as The London School of Architecture are introducing new courses that envisage greater mobility between parts of the construction industry and also promote lifelong learning and personal development. 

The possibility of having a cross-industry basic competency qualification, addressing, for example, fire safety and sustainability standards, could help enable people in construction to move between trades and professions more easily. This is an idea that the industry should collectively explore. 

Lifelong learning is critical to keeping the industry properly skilled in a rapidly changing regulatory environment, and for individuals to fulfil their potential. Low-cost but well-designed courses and modules can help professionals and trades people maintain their skills, develop their employability and drive improvements in construction productivity. 

Ensuring construction has the skills and capacity to deliver a just transition to a green economy is also central to the future success of the industry. 

Ideas from the commission’s young persons’ advisory panel 

By Jordan Marshall 

The commission convened a young persons’ advisory panel to gain views from the next generation of professionals. Made up of 14 people aged 35 and under from across construction, the panel was uniquely positioned to explore how best to attract new talent into the sector. Through discussions the panel came up with the following ideas to improve industry career pathways: 

Industry engagement with schools should be increased and mandated 

The panel recommended that every built environment firm be required to engage with at least one school throughout the year – and that volunteers from companies should be co-ordinated by a central organisation to ensure children learn about construction at regular intervals and across a broad spectrum of disciplines, in particular highlighting the digital technologies being harnessed and the environmental targets teams work towards. 

Stereotypes about construction roles are formed as young as six or seven years of age, proving it is never too early to get positive mentors explaining all the different opportunities the sector offers. 

More support for new entrants transitioning from education to the workplace 

While many graduates or new starters may not be “work ready”, the panel believed that a vast majority are eager to learn. Some employers have supportive induction programmes in place, but others struggle to brings skills up to the desired level. 

There needs to be a collective effort to create shared resources for employers to help new starters in different disciplines get to grips with the workplace, helping with the retention rate in early career stages. More also needs to be done to communicate the opportunities to take up the apprenticeship-degree route, which provides valuable hands-on work experience while people are qualifying. 

Greater industry involvement in designing qualifications 

Regardless of their professional specialism, the panellists felt that many of their courses failed to provide recruits with an adequate and practical skillset. Industry professionals should be seconded to more colleges and universities to advise on course curriculum and assessment, which would help bridge the gap between academia and the world of work.   

Reconnecting planning with design 

The planning and architecture professions have been diverging for most of the last century. Planners have typically become “development managers” who develop strategic plans and refuse or grant planning permission, while architects focus on individual buildings. The gap between the professions – urban design that addresses the quality of place and public space – has been neglected. 

The Policy Exchange think tank recently suggested a new “School of Place” to address this issue. Opinions are divided on whether such an institution would be a silver bullet solution. However, the relevant professions, education institutes, developers and local authority planning departments should seek to develop new models that deliver more urban-design literate planners and architects, who speak a shared language of high-quality spaces and places. 

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Engaging and motivating young people 

Young people are critical to the future of the industry and should be the focus of education and outreach efforts by businesses and consultancies. They often have an innate interest in the process of design and construction. This is something the industry should be harnessing from a very early age.

Saudi Arabia has made design and architecture a key part of its primary and secondary education systems. The recently introduced built environment GCSE in Wales shows how this could be done in England. 

But the industry should be taking the lead and seeking to engage young people from the earliest stages to cultivate their interest in the built environment and firmly establish it as an exciting and aspirational career opportunity for both boys and girls. 

Cross-disciplinary learning 

Too often construction professionals continue to work in silos that prevent sharing of knowledge, hinder productivity and lead to low levels of interdisciplinary co-operation and respect. New courses such as PlanBEE, which has been developed in the North-east and is being rolled out in Manchester and London, provide 18- to 20-year-olds with the opportunity to undertake a skills programme over two years in which they try a range of construction careers, such as architecture, engineering, quantity surveying and construction management. 

AI has huge potential to deliver tailormade, cost-effective education and training packages. It can also speed up and improve design and construction processes

Such courses not only allow young people to develop a sense of what route best suits them, but also help build understanding and respect between the professions. 

Young people who take the PlanBEE course are also much more likely to ultimately pursue a career in construction than those going straight into a narrowly defined profession-specific course. By exposing more people to what their peers in other professions do, the opportunities to build trust and collaboration also increase. 

AI and technology 

Technology is constantly changing the way in which we learn and work. The industry must embrace new technologies to drive innovation and productivity. AI has huge potential to deliver tailormade, cost-effective education and training packages. It can also speed up and improve design and construction processes. Equipping the existing and future workforce in how to use these tools will be critical to the future success of the construction industry.


1. A government-sponsored audit by a cross-industry panel of all educational standards (including apprenticeship standards) to ensure that they are fit for purpose in terms of building up capacity within the construction industry and to hasten a just transition to a fair and inclusive green economy. The panel would be appointed by the government to consult widely within professional services, construction, education and client bodies. 

2. There should be a cross-industry campaign to ensure flexible routes into and across the whole range of roles and responsibilities in the built environment. This will break down 19th-century professional silos and harness the potential of growing modularisation of learning. 

This should be a long-term project bringing together professional institutions, trade bodies and educational organisations, incorporating the goal of developing a new standard/suite of modular cross-industry qualifications – for example, in net zero and building safety – that help deliver high levels of competency, and facilitate much greater movement of people between different parts of the sector, sharing knowledge and promoting a collaborative culture.    

3. A 15- to 20-year government strategy for vocational education: This needs to have input from business leaders, local leaders and educationalists. The next government should also immediately implement a key recommendation from the Times Education Commission to set up an elite group of vocational sixth forms known as career academies. 

  Download the full report below


BTFC final report cover