A positive external image of the sector will go a long way to bringing in fresh talent


Sarah Richardson

The construction industry portrayed on this week’s cover of Building is one that many young people would surely be keen to enter. Our cohort of 14 young professionals, pictured as they start out their careers in the industry, are all bright, engaging, and full of enthusiasm for the sector they have joined. They also reflect a mix of academic backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. Together, they paint a picture of an industry that is inclusive, forward-looking, and in many ways representative of the society whose built environment it will shape. In short, an industry which has every reason to be positive about its own future.

However, as businesses which are currently struggling with recruiting for the upturn will be painfully aware, this is all too often not the image of the sector projected to the outside world - including thousands of the industry’s potential future workers.

The group of young people we profile this week have all chosen to work in construction, attracted by the industry’s many fantastic opportunities: the chance to influence the environment in which they live, to manage complex programmes of work, and to experiment with new technologies.

For this group the positives outweighed the negatives, but sadly, the same cannot be said for thousands of others.

However, several have already had to overcome damaging preconceptions about the industry to get this far. Fears about inclusiveness, particularly of women, and the appearance of an archaic industry are just two of the negative perceptions they encountered before making their decision to pursue a career in the sector.

For this group the positives outweighed the negatives, but sadly, the same cannot be said for thousands of others. This is a problem of real concern for a sector that, with an ageing workforce and after losing thousands of workers during recession, needs to recruit an estimated average of 35,000 workers a year for the next five years to meet projected demand. And this in turn becomes a problem for the wider economy. The chief executive of Westinghouse this week, to take one example, warned that the nuclear sector in the UK may need to bring in foreign workers to keep programmes on track in the light of shortages of engineers in Britain.

Even more fundamental to recruitment than the image the sector presents, however, is the question of how far the reality of working in the industry justifies the decision of new recruits to join it. If construction is to change its image, it first has to be sure that it really is the kind of sector that can offer a welcoming working environment to the brightest talents out there - regardless of their background.

For this reason, back in July, Building launched its Building a Better Balance campaign - to promote diversity and tolerance in construction and draw attention to characteristics of the sector that may stand in the way of this type of culture, with the aim of instigating change.

Our Class of 2014 group is central to this initiative. Through them, we aim not only to highlight the positivity, talent and diversity of the people the sector is capable of attracting, but also, by tracking their experiences and thoughts on the industry as they experience it in practice, explore how far the reality of working in construction can live up to their ambitions - for good or for bad.

In doing so, we hope to help you make the industry a place that can attract thousands more like this group: young people who have chosen construction as their first choice career, and who have the potential to inspire more to follow that choice.

Sarah Richardson, editor