How do we inspire the next generation to pursue a career in construction? And are we in the industry doing enough to educate young people about the variety of careers in the sector

Debbie Aplin

It’s the time of year when the schools start their new academic year and universities gear up for the latest intake of bright and talented young people. And as they do, I sit back and wonder whether we in the industry are doing all that we can to promote the great jobs and career opportunities that can be found working in development and construction.

Now that the market is in recovery the industry faces a skills shortage. With construction on the back foot through the down turn and many firms freezing recruitment or getting rid of people, we run the risk of losing a whole generation of great talent. It’s our responsibility, now things seem to be turning round, to make sure we don’t let that happen.

As you read this, try to ask yourself a few simple questions: how did I get where I am today? Who helped me on my career path?

And am I doing enough to help and encourage the next generation of capable young people to develop their skills and take advantage of the huge number of opportunities within our sector? Of course, many of us do a considerable amount already. There are those supporting apprenticeship schemes that help young people to learn the skills of the trade, from bricklaying and painting to carpentry and plumbing.

And others run graduate training schemes that cover disciplines as diverse as land acquisition and planning, surveying, design and development.

However, the opportunities within our industry are even more varied and diverse than this. We are missing a trick if we discount the value of supporting job creation in other areas such as site administration, site canteen, conveyancing, legal secretary, health and safety or junior accountancy, to name but a few. 

Investment in the sector is essential, and a focus on creating homes, jobs and skills is not only important for the next generation but vital for the future of the economy

The construction industry employs nearly one tenth of the entire UK workforce, making it a major driver for recovery and growth. Every £1 spent on building work is estimated to generate £2.84 of wider economic activity, and every home built creates 1.5 full-time jobs, plus up to four times that number in the supply chain.

With statistics like these, continued investment in the sector is essential, and a focus on creating homes, jobs and skills is not only important for the next generation of young people entering the jobs market, but is also vital for the future of the economy.

So how can we encourage more young people to consider the many career opportunities within development and construction?

First, we need to engage with secondary schools at the earliest possible stage to offer work experience placements, whether in an office environment or out on site.

Secondly, we should be doing more to connect with local technical colleges and universities, even offering a gap year of employment where resources allow.

Thirdly, as an industry we need to start reviewing our internal training programmes and budgets to put in place more graduate training schemes, which should take place over two years irrespective of discipline. It is important that graduates get the chance to work across a number of different departments and develop a variety of specialisms before returning to their chosen skill set in their second year of the scheme. It is only by doing this that they will gain a comprehensive overview of the entire industry, standing them in good stead regardless of the direction their career takes.

While there are many positive examples of this happening already, we need to make sure that these ideas are adopted across the entire sector. This approach should be firmly instilled as a mainstay of our industry.     

Finally we need to act as advocates for the next generation and consider the role of the supply chain by, for example, encouraging subcontractors and suppliers to take on recently qualified apprentices following the completion of their two or three year course.

PR and publicity can also play an important role. More businesses should consider entering their apprentices or graduates into trade or local business awards. This not only highlights the fact that our industry carries out a huge amount of on-the-job training, but can also bring a great deal of pride and achievement to those involved.

It is worth also considering incentives in the form of public sector secondments. Whether this is in planning, finance or property maintenance, the list of opportunities is truly endless.

As the saying goes “a business is only as good as its people”. We need to positively encourage multi-talented, smart young people to join this creative, rewarding and wonderful industry.

The impact of what we do is all around us, and the positive influence we can have in terms of creating a true “sense of place” is immeasurable. If we get it right, a career in construction offers the chance to leave a positive mark on the built environment, potentially improving people’s lives for centuries to come. What could be more important than that?

Debbie Aplin is managing director of Crest Nicholson Regeneration