101 Under 28: This week, Building launches a project to find out what construction’s younger generation really think about the industry they’ve chosen to spend their careers in. Roxane McMeeken conducted an initial survey of our sample group, then took three of them to the pub to grill them further … Photography by Matt Leete
Two years ago, construction firms were installing pool tables and Playstations as they strove to attract young people. And for a while there, it seemed that almost any young person would do, even the non-cognates (that is, graduates with a degree in English literature). At the height of the battle for hearts and minds, companies were offering £3,000 “joining bonuses”. Two little statistics convey the spirit of those times: the number of chartered staff working for consultants rose by 18% between 2006 and 2007, and Bovis Lend Lease said it had turned away work worth £2bn.
Well, the past is another country where they pay people differently. The recession has ended all signs of irrational exuberance and firms are more likely to be laying staff off than growing. Indeed, further rounds of job cuts among consultants are widely expected, with Atkins, WSP and Gleeds among those either planning or considering redundancies.
And yet, although the intense focus on the youth recruitment has disappeared, young people are still with us. In 2009 there were 589,000 aged 16-29 in the construction sector, according to the Office for National Statistics and Construction Skills.
Nobody would deny that younger people have a huge part to play in our industry, and if the recession leads to another lost generation, as happened in the nineties, then it’s all but certain that the labour market will once again overheat when demand returns. So if we want to make sure our young people stick with us, it’s essential that we stay in touch with them and do all we can to meet their expectations. That’s why Building is launching the 101 Under 28 project.
We’ve put together a poll group of 101 people aged up to 28 across the full range of professions. We’ll be asking them what they think about the industry and the issues that affect them. Our coverage of this group will act as a barometer of the mood, hopes and bugbears of the industry’s younger members.
We’re marking the launch by publishing the results of an initial survey, completed anonymously, which asked our 101 under 28 how they were feeling about their careers in construction. As you’ll see, from the results (displayed throughout this feature), they are fairly positive, with 91% saying that they would still choose construction if they could go back in time and start again, for example.
We picked three members of the poll group, took them to the Duke of Cambridge pub in Islington and found out how they are managing to avoid getting too depressed by the downturn, but also what they can’t stand about the industry and how they’d change things. Here’s what they said…
How has the downturn affected your career?
Suzanne Gaballa, architect, Sheppard Robson:
Before, your company would ask you what you wanted to do, where you wanted to work and what interested you. You could work abroad, work on huge projects or focus on cultural schemes, anything you wanted. But choices are more limited now.
Talha Timol, commercial manager, Bovis Lend Lease: Yes, now it’s a case of you do what they tell you or you’ll be laid off. They don’t say it openly but you know that’s the score. Training is more limited too - if you are sent on a course, your employer needs to know exactly what benefit it’s going to have.
SG It’s the same for architects. There aren’t many that are willing to help you get part III now as it costs them money and they know you can demand a higher salary once you’ve got it. Thankfully I’ve already got mine.
Now that employers aren’t scrabbling to recruit graduates, have attitudes towards younger people changed?
Rachel Broadhurst, client liaison manager, Aggregate Industries: You do hear people saying ’not another bloody graduate’! The fact is that lots were taken on and they don’t contribute much for the first few years because they need a lot of training. On top of that, most come in at middle management level over people who’ve already worked for 10 years so you can understand a degree of resentment. It can be hard but you have to show some humility, I’ve learned that can help.
What would you change if you were in charge?
SG The professions never mix enough and it’s almost as if the industry has been set up to encourage animosity. It starts at university - we didn’t mix with any of the other construction professions, even though we knew which floors they were on. It may be getting worse too. In the past I would call a company like Aggregate to discuss a product before specifying it, but now the contract doesn’t allow that.
TT I have to admit, having a project manager as a layer between the architect and the contractor makes it worse because they don’t communicate directly.
SG The 2012 Olympics contract is interesting because it does encourage everyone to be on the same level but it’s a one-off.
TT I know! I would love to see the NEC used more because it encourages collaboration but it’s only ever used in the public sector. I can’t see the private sector ever using it as there are too many vested interests. I did my dissertation on the Latham report and project bank accounts, and I thought it was a great idea but we’re nowhere near implementing half of Latham’s ideas.
SG It’s ridiculous that everyone still talks about the Latham report and its goals still haven’t been met!
RB Another unfortunate consequence of the recession is that everything is about price now. There’s a sense that quality and service can’t fall below a certain level anyway so what really counts is price, which is a shame.
SG But the worst thing is watching so many people being made redundant. It’s just standard now that you go down the pub and talk about people losing their jobs. I really feel for people with children because it must be awful. At least I know that if it really came down to it I could move back in with my parents.
So many architects dream of launching their own practice. Has the recession made people more cautious about that?
SG I would still like to do that one day maybe, but it definitely seems riskier. You’re just grateful to have a job these days.
Would you recommend a career in construction to a young person?
If you could go back in time and choOse your career again, would you still choose construction?
How the poll group breaks down
10% civil engineers
7% structural engineers
5% project managers
5% building surveyors
3% construction managers
2% design engineers
21% other, including site manager, client liaison manager, quarry manager and business development manager
Have you had a pay rise in the last 12 months?
Will you still be in the construction industry in three years’ time?
17.1% Don’t know
How six criteria for choosing the ideal job were ranked:
1. Job satisfaction
2. Career progression opportunities
4. Opportunity to work abroad
5. Employer’s sustainability policy