The industry is changing rapidly, with companies urgently trying to attract a new generation of talent and projects increasingly dependent on new technologies – it’s vital that the way we train changes too

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As the construction industry changes, so too do the challenges facing it. BIM, collaboration and innovation are almost necessities on projects today, while an impending skills shortage is placing a sharper focus on the need to attract a diverse talent pool. It means that construction professions have to re-evaluate the way they train new recruits for today’s industry.

Diversity is a big problem facing the professions, including architecture. Architects of non-white ethnic origin make up only 6% of the profession, compared with 18% of the UK general population. Half of undergraduate students are female, but this falls to 40% for architectural assistants and 28% for architects with five years’ experience.

Adapting to new technology is also critical, with the mandatory use of BIM level 2 on all Whitehall-procured contracts set to kick in this April. Despite this, a RICS survey from 2015 showed that only 49% of surveyors are using BIM on a day-to-day basis. Meanwhile, IT improvements mean people are able to access huge amounts of information on the fly in a vast array of different formats, changing the way people learn.

All of this has a profound effect on the way new professional staff need to be trained. So how are the professions reforming the way they qualify new staff to meet the needs of the modern construction industry? Building asked three industry bodies to explain how and why they’re adapting training to prepare people for the industry today.

A need for radical change

Adrian Dobson, executive director of members, RIBA

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A reinvigorated construction industry is experiencing a skills shortage but the architectural profession seems immune. Architecture schools have students in abundance and numbers on the Architects Registration Board (ARB) register are at an all-time high. A robust architectural market attracts young architects from across Europe; nearly half of new ARB registrants now have non-UK qualifications.

However, practices must guard against complacency that this will continue. With the tuition fees alone for architectural education now some £50,000, will a profession with median earnings of £42,000 remain attractive and accessible? With good reason, the RIBA’s review of architectural education is focused on developing flexible study options with greater earn-as-you-learn opportunities.

Figures on diversity and inclusion in architecture show a need for radical change to professional structures and culture, to ensure welcoming and supportive careers for the very best future talent. Architects of non-white ethnic origin make up only 6% of the profession, compared with 18% of the UK general population. Half of undergraduate students are female, but this falls to 40% for architectural assistants and 28% for architects with five years’ experience. Just 17% of equity directors are women. Great role models and mentors have a key part to play, along with more varied study options and better flexible working and maternity/paternity arrangements.

Architecture is globalising. Already 22% of UK practice revenue comes from international work. Global hubs (New York, London, Dubai, Hong Kong) are emerging as honeypots of architectural enterprise, drawing in projects and talent. The race is on to break out of parochial regulation and establish global standards in education, project management and data. UK professional bodies are well placed to take the initiative and provide competitive advantage.

What about the coming millennial generation - the true digital natives? BIM will seem less brave new world and more natural environment for them. Professional ethics will need to come into sharper focus. Values of tolerance, sustainability and social justice are particularly important to this generation. Firms and professions that cannot demonstrate that ethical principles stand at their core are unlikely to recruit and retain this group.

New strategies to widen access

Andrew Close, head of careers, education and professional development, Royal Town Planning Institute

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Town planning is centre stage in the delivery of infrastructure, homes and jobs. Planners use their knowledge and skills to act as mediator, encouraging development and growth while balancing the competing interests and uses for land.

The prospects for trained planners are favourable with the economic upturn. Graduates from RTPI-accredited courses are highly employable, with planning one of the top disciplines for student employment, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. To help address the issues emerging in a modern construction industry, our online training portal RTPI Learn supports professional planners in the UK, Ireland and overseas.

The RTPI regularly revises its training to ensure its relevance - this year, for example, we will publish up-to-date training on sustainable energy. Because job-ready practitioners assist construction delivery, the RTPI examined existing members’ learning and practice needs and peer-reviewed the knowledge and skills for the near future. Eight priorities for continuing professional development (CPD) have been launched, addressing, for example, leadership skills for the effective provision of housing, and mediation skills necessary to use land as a resource.

In 2015, the institute launched a highly successful bursary scheme to attract new entrants to masters degrees as part of its Future Planners campaign to explore new pathways into the profession for school leavers and career changers. The scheme will run again in 2016 co-sponsored by the public and private sectors and universities. A technical apprenticeship developed by the RTPI is under way with young people employed at councils and development consultancies, and Chichester College joined the scheme last year.

These projects aim to widen access into a career in the built environment in support of streamlined routes to chartered membership launched by the RTPI this month.

A workforce to reflect the community

Justine Wallis-Leggett, equalities manager, RICS

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The fact that the built environment does not offer a balanced workforce is obvious – to give an example, currently only 13% of chartered surveyors are women. And while ethnicity figures are not always available, it’s clear that the current workforce does not reflect the client base or the community.

Equally clear are the business benefits of diversity: a 2014 report by McKinsey & Company showed that gender-diverse companies were 35% more likely to financially outperform those without gender diversity, while ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to outperform their less diverse associates.

Construction needs co-ordinated action because, as well as preparing candidates for the modern industry, the sector needs to maximise opportunities to nurture a modern workforce.

Last year, RICS kicked off “Surveying the Future”, targeting teachers and parents to show that surveying is a profession that offers a brilliant range of opportunities, and that the land, property and construction sector needs and welcomes young and diverse talent. We also wanted to encourage employers to recognise the business benefits. Firms need to attract and retain professionals who will succeed in a changing world and RICS itself makes sure that our eligibility criteria to apply for assessments is broad and supports the diverse nature of the profession, and also supports the changes within recruitment as this takes on a more global approach.

RICS has also launched the Inclusive Employer Quality Mark. Not only does the Quality Mark commit employers to improving inclusivity and monitoring their own performance, but it also establishes a community of surveyors who are creating working environments in which anyone can excel. Based on six key principles, from leadership to staff engagement, the Quality Mark provides a practical tool for firms to improve inclusivity in the sector.