For a week in October young people will be invited to see behind the site hoardings - play your part and register to get involved

Suzannah Nichol 2020

Almost every discussion on skills includes the phrase “we need to make construction more attractive to the next generation; we need a recruitment campaign”. I have to smile because these are two very different things and the first is not solved by the second.

We are attractive to 40,000 young people who every year choose to take a construction-related course at college. They are looking to join the industry and desperately want an employer to take an interest in them and offer them an apprenticeship or a job of some kind. However, only 8,000 are taken on.

A recruitment campaign doesn’t make an industry attractive. Providing rewarding jobs with flexible working in an environment with decent welfare arrangements where people are valued, developed, and supported is what makes an industry attractive.

it is no secret that we are so much more effective when we all work together

We have all of that in pockets across construction and those of us that find one of those pockets love working in our industry. Unfortunately, a culture of self-employment, long hours and a poor mental health record means this experience is not the same for everyone. If we want to be a career of choice for school leavers, we need to improve our business model and increase our productivity to create sites, projects and companies that people want to work for.

We do actually have some amazing recruitment initiatives that show young people the fantastic stuff we do and take them on their journey into construction. We all just need to get behind them to make the big impact we want, and it is no secret that we are so much more effective when we all work together.

Open Doors is one of those initiatives – run by the industry, for the industry with over 1,000 sites across the UK taking people behind the hoardings since 2016. As the parent of a teenager, I know that young people can often seem uninterested, particularly when you try to tell them something. But give them an experience they wouldn’t usually get and their interest rockets. The words “Fancy a site visit?” – whether it is to a major project such as Battersea Power Station or a local housing project covered in scaffolding – usually ignites a positive response, and there is almost always enthusiasm for seeing an excavator or crane in action, while a passionate site team explain what they are creating in the local community.

Even though we are still navigating our way through the pandemic, we are gearing up for Open Doors 2021 from Monday 4 October to Saturday 9 October and it has been fantastic to find that Build UK members are ready and willing to open their sites. Not only are they keen to show off their projects, but there is also a real opportunity to show that construction has worked safely throughout the last 18 months, keeping its people employed and supporting the economy. Alongside the on-site experiences, there will be an array of virtual events such as Q&As with apprentices and discussion panels.

Open Doors is for everyone, and our industry has a long supply chain requiring a pipeline of new recruits throughout to keep construction moving. And this is where you, the industry, come in. Whether you are a client, contractor, manufacturer, merchant, logistics centre, specialist, designer, or consultant, you can play your part in recruiting the next generation by participating in Open Doors.

The Open Doors website, previously used for finding worker accommodation during the pandemic, has been revamped and this month companies have already started registering their sites and events. It will then go live for public bookings from 23 August.

Companies that have already agreed to participate will have nominated their Open Doors coordinator who will get all the tools they need to get involved and promote their sites and events. If you are interested and have not yet signed up, please get in touch with the team via

Suzannah Nichol is Build UK chief executive