The Building the Future Commission young persons’ advisory panel has made a series of recommendations to help the industry attract a better and more diverse range of recruits


Attracting fresh talent to the construction sector is not a new problem, and yet efforts to address the skills gap have so far failed to make much impact. 

As part of the Building the Future Commission we have assembled a young persons’ advisory panel, which aims to provide the view of the next generation on a range of issues impacting the industry.

Last month the panel met for the first time, on the same day as the Building the Future Commission’s first commissioner meeting, to discuss one key question: how can we improve pathways for youn people into the built environment industries?

Made up of construction professionals aged under 35, the panel is uniquely positioned to explore how best to attract new talent into the sector. In the discussion they unpacked the blockers, worked out how they might overcome them and pulled together a list of actions that should be taken.

What are the problems? 

“I found my way into construction thanks to Google, really. Careers advisers at my school didn’t ever mention the construction industry at all,” said Josie Woodward, a trainee quantity surveyor at Gleeds.

“I really liked maths in school. So I looked at things like being an accountant or an actuary. But it didn’t really tickle my fancy, while the construction industry appealed to me more.”


Her experience in terms of career guidance at school was widely shared across the panel – all of whom said a lack of guidance at critical junctures such as pre-GCSEs was a significant barrier to entry for construction professions. 

But it was by no means the only challenge with Alice Graham, senior surveyor at Faithful + Gould, highlighting two other issues: gaining demonstrable work experience before applying for jobs and a lack of flexibility for people entering the sector at later life stages.

She said that both her experience and the anecdotal experience of others showed that, for those without a personal connection within the sector, many struggled to get the work experience that was essential to securing employment.

Building the Future Commission Conference


The Building the Future Commission Conference is set to take place in central London on 27 September, bringing together leading industry experts to unpack the biggest issues identified by Building’s year-long inquiry into the built environment.

It will include a trio of in-person panel sessions, high-profile keynote speakers and a series of specification roundtable discussions during the day, with how reform and advancement of digital construction, net zero, building safety, people and delivery, and housing can transform the industry all set to be explored.

All our panel sessions will be fully interactive, allowing you the chance to have your say, and put your questions to any of our panels. You can even ask a question before the session!

Then, in the evening, join those who have been shortlisted for the 2023 Building Awards and Architect of the Year Awards to network with more than 300 of the industry’s shining stars.

Tickets are on sale with the first 50 attendees set to save £100!


While not being an issue she has personally encountered as she is not a mother, Graham said she had seen an influx of women wanting to join the sector, specifically as QS’s after a maternity break, she added that a perceived lack of flexibility was still a significant issue.

The panel also identified a distinct gap between the skills that new entrants had directly from qualification. Luke Emery, a carpenter at Lowry Building & Civil Engineering, said: “Chartered professionals have told me that they’re hiring people that have just finished their degrees and they’re simply not capable. The degree is preparing them for exams rather than the real world, rather than what it’s actually like to be involved in construction.”

Willmott Dixon

Source: Willmott Dixon

Potential industry recruits on a site visit to get a flavour of what a job in construction might entail

The panel agreed that, across a lot of the different disciplines, this was an issue – with members saying that many new starters were graduating without a realistic understanding of what their professional life would look like.

Sam Cash, senior associate at Fenwick Elliott, added that the perceived culture of construction appeared to be a challenge to recruiting new talent. “There is a clear traditional perception about what the construction sector is and that can be a barrier,” he said.

“The question is, how do you tackle it? Do you wait around and hope that the next generation changes things? Does each firm push on with different approaches? It’s a big challenge for industry.”

The Building the Future Commission young persons’ advisory panel

How can these hurdles be addressed?

On the point of graduates and new joiners lacking job readiness, Maryam Al-Irhayim, vice president for students and associates on council at the RIBA, said it was also essential that the industry was prepared to provide increased support for those transitioning into work.

“I think you’re going to continue to learn throughout your career, regardless of which position you’re going to take in the future,” she said. “Some universities do sandwich courses, and I think those should be increased.

“I do think that there is opportunity for change, but I just want to be mindful that it should be a collaborative change between industry and the institutions.”

Laura Markus, policy and external affairs advisor at the Home Builders Federation, believea that more research is needed as to where the gaps exist in the industry in terms of representation. “I think we all know that construction is a male-dominated, white-dominated industry, but much more can be done to identify where the gaps exist – there’s a research gap there as well.

“So the problem is funding and time spent on it that people already don’t have. But you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know exactly what causes it.” 

Wojciech Szewczak, principal consultant at Ramboll, added that another way to attract the next generation could be to showcase the diverse job opportunities the industry can provide. “For example, the ACE emerging professionals group was initially established to bring together professionals working in the natural and built environment, primarily engineers. Now, most of our members are sustainability consultants, digital professionals, management consultants, data scientists,” he said.

“There is a need to adapt and attract people from different backgrounds – such as strategists, systems thinkers, data analysts and data scientists – to build a more sustainable future.”

Key recommendations to address the concerns

  1. Increase industry engagement with schools

    The panel recommended that every built environment firm be required to engage with at least one school throughout the year – and that this be coordinated by a central group to ensure children were having visibility of construction at regular intervals and across a broad spectrum of specialities.

    “Stereotypes are formed at six or seven years of age,” said Lucy Sherburn, consulting engineer at Fairheat. “Yes, you have to adjust what you are presenting based on the age, but there is an opportunity at every age to showcase what the sector has to offer – and to stop those stereotypical perceptions from forming.”

  2. Have at least one construction-based course introduced to a Russell Group university

    The panel felt that having a construction-based degree, whether that be construction management, project management, or quantity surveying at a Russell Group University. Sophie Leake, site manager, Speller Metcalfe, said: “It is just as much about changing parents perceptions as it is, the students that are then are then passionate.” Woodward added that having courses at universities with higher perceived prestige was a simple way of doing this.

  3. Industry providing more bridging paths and support from training at university or college to workplace

    While many graduates or new starters may not be “work ready”, the panel believed that a vast majority are very eager to learn. Many said that, while some firms are supportive of new starters, others struggle to manage a resource that has a skill-set below the desired level.

    A number of panelists suggested that a unified approach across industry to introducing new starters could assist in retention in early career stages. Woodward also said that more should be done by firms to encourage potential new joiners to undertake an apprenticeship-degree route as this provided hands-on work experience while people are qualifying.

  4. A uniformed push on changing the perception of the industry

    The panel cited the example of the military, which took a joined-up approach to show the breadth of opportunities and transform its image. Fenwick Elliott’s Cash said that the push for green skills could help provide the industry with a new look, while the rise of new technologies and approaches should help attract a new swath of workers to the sector.

    All agreed that an industry-wide approach was required and could be led by organisations such as the Construction Leadership Councl or CITB.

  5. Research into where and why gaps in representation exist

    Improving the diversity of those working in the sector is key but, as the HBF’s Markus said, there is a lack of understanding as to where and why the sector is failing to attract and retain it. As such, the panel thought it was important to spend time investigating the barriers specific to different under-represented groups. By doing so,  solutions to these various barriers might be investigated fully.

  6. Have greater industry involvement in designing qualifications

    Regardless of speciality the panelists felt that many of the courses leading into their professions failed to provide recruits with the correct skill-set. Emery said it was imperative that “practical skills were returned to the classroom”, while Leake said there were numerous ways firms could ensure the graduates entering their workforce were competent on arrival.

    Providing industry professionals as guest lecturers or skills tutors, as well as providing work placement opportunities  helped to ensure graduates were more prepared for the realities of the workplace, she said.

The Building the Future Commission 



The Building the Future Commission is a year-long project, marking Building’s 180th anniversary, to assess potential solutions and radical new ways of thinking to improve the built environment.

The major project’s work will be guided by a panel of 19 major figures who have signed up to help shape the commission’s work culminating in a report published at the end of the year.

The commissioners include figures from the world of contracting, housing development, architecture, policy-making, skills, design, place-making, infrastructure, consultancy and legal. See the full list here.

The project is looking at proposals for change in eight areas:

>> Editor’s view: And now for something completely positive - our Building the Future Commission

>> Click here for more about the project and the commissioners

Building the Future is also undertaking a countrywide tour of roundtable discussions with experts around the regions as part of a consultation programme in partnership with the regional arms of industry body Constructing Excellence.

We are inviting readers to submit ideas for how to improve the built environment through our online form which will form part of our Ideas Hub.