Young people are turning their noses up at the idea of a career in construction but it’s our industry and education providers who are to blame - we simply aren’t doing enough to engage them

Steve Beechey

Since the mid-eighties our industry has complained that young people in this country discount a career in construction. With the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) suggesting that more than 182,000 additional jobs will be needed by 2018, the industry must work harder to engage young people.

Having joined the industry myself in 1986, I elected to take a sponsored place on a new building degree. The course was comprehensive but the wide base of training that my sponsor Tarmac gave me was invaluable. Between then and now it feels as though the industry and education providers have done little to address the causes behind the lack of interest among young people.

The industry has moved forward significantly to offer better on-site working conditions and facilities, allied with better pay and health and safety. And yet we’re still failing to attract the interest of much-needed young talent. Employers complain they cannot find young recruits with the right skills, qualifications, experience and attitude. ONS 2013 figures show construction contributes £90bn to the UK economy and employs 2.93 million people. So the implications of not bringing in enough new people are clear. Our economic growth depends on us finding the talent to fuel it.

So why are we finding it so hard to attract young people with the right skills? Our industry’s image is clearly a key problem hampering our efforts to win over the interest of young people. Key to addressing the lack of interest in construction is the poor image of our working conditions, and we all need to work harder to counteract this and bring to the fore the positive aspects of trade-based roles and what the industry can offer.

There is also a sense that what I call the “Playstation generation” of young people are reluctant to engage in outdoor activities and an active existence. Thanks to the allure of being able to simulate experiences indoors, they lack the passion and will to work outdoors.

Another concern is the cyclical nature of construction. Well known as a barometer of the economy, ours is the first sector to be hit when a downturn occurs, leading to the misguided view of a turbulent industry with unknown job security.

Construction education and routes into the industry also need to be clearer and better supported by educators, industry and the government. There are of course already courses in our industry’s various specialisms, but employers need to return to offering robust sponsored programmes and supporting broader based training schemes, if they are to overcome the concerns regarding lack of work-based skills and experience.

Apprenticeships, and the concerted marketing effort they have had in recent years, are going some way to educate young people on the opportunities, but there is still not enough being done.

It’s clear that our education system has historically failed to focus on equipping young people for the workplace even if there are signs that things are changing. Teaching styles are honing in on providing young people with a future career but it will take time for this step-change to deliver the curriculum in a manner that supports employment.

The acknowledgement by schools of the need to change their approach in order to impart more project-based learning skills, including integrating workplace skills into the education system, is a starting point but there is still some way to go to reform the curriculum to set young people up for the workplace.

These commitments and a programme of work with skills bodies will go some way to meeting the problems we face, but industry leaders need to create a more joined-up approach to educate pupils on the outstanding work achieved within our industry at the earliest possible stage.

Hence of the 1 million people aged 16-18 not in employment or education in 2013, just 7,280 completed a construction apprenticeship. We have to do better. It’s clear that our young people are not being educated about and choosing a career in our multi-faceted industry, for all of the aforementioned reasons and more. The implications of this “lost generation” may not be felt today, but unless we change our approach it will hamper our economy in the near future.

Without a concerted effort to educate young people about careers in construction, we will need to continue to draw on skills from the world labour market. We ought to be educating, supporting and growing our own talent to strengthen our economy, lessen the burden of mass unemployment among our young people, ultimately protecting our country and industry.

Stephen Beechey is managing director education sector and investment solutions at Wates Group