Too many construction graduates are on the dole. This is talent that our industry is going to need when the upturn comes. So let’s nurture it

Nineteen months ago, Building ran an investigation into graduates in our sector. From a sample of 600 in September 2009, they found that 60% were unemployed and that a third were already considering working outside the industry.

At the same time, a report entitled Never Waste a Good Crisis, by Andrew Wolstenholme, highlighted the problems that continue to stifle progress in our sector, one of which is the need to attract, retain and develop more of the right people to improve industry capability.

These facts, combined with economic downturn, high levels of unemployment and just under 40,000 construction graduates looking for a job, led us to create an internship initiative: The Pledge. The Pledge was created to offer the construction sector a structured approach to protecting home-grown talent and breaking the cyclical issue of skills shortages that recessions have been proven to create. Fundamentally, it’s about safeguarding the future talent and skills of individual businesses and the sector as a whole, so that when the upturn arrives, we are ready to respond and grow.

The Pledge asks companies to provide the equivalent of 2% of technical or professional headcount in graduate internships each year in the fields of civil engineering, surveying and architecture. These should last up to three months with the option to extend to a full-time position over time.

We recognise that full graduate employment opportunities are always the best option, but the current economic climate and over 170,000 redundancies in the year leading up to August 2009 showed us that this simply wasn’t viable for many businesses. Our hope is that once the sector recovers, there will be no need for initiatives such as this; but until then we can’t sit back and do nothing.

Sixteen months on from the launch, we have the overarching support of our industry with organisations such as the UK Contractors Group and the CIOB asking their members to do what they can.

The latest report from ConstructionSkills says the industry should start to grow again by 2014. In order to keep up with this, we will need to create about 4,340 professional and technical roles a year between now and then. But the outlook for another year of university graduates about to finish in June is bleak, and the danger of them leaving the sector, very real. According to the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate for all new graduates was 20% in Q3 2010 with the percentage of unemployed engineering and building management graduates likely to be considerably higher than this.  

This was highlighted in Building’s recent 2011 Consultants’ Salary Guide, (21 April) which revealed that 63% of the employers surveyed said they did not plan to recruit this quarter. The guide explained that the job cuts, recruitment freezes and salary reductions could lead to a future that, if things go on as they are, is devoid of young, fresh construction talent.

While it is certainly very tough out there, projects are still being undertaken and any construction company or consultancy winning work will have sight of the next few months’ work. Taking an intern on for the length of a project is an ideal way to create an opportunity for a graduate to work in the sector and gain valuable experience while helping the company to manage workloads.

There are concerns about exploitation, an issue that has been widely publicised in sectors such as the fashion industry and an area where the government has been developing guidelines. My view, however, is simple - if there is a job to be done, and an intern is doing it, then pay them to do it.

Your business in the meantime will be in a better position to deal with peaks in client demands, be more reactive to requests and, who knows, you may also end up keeping them on. If not, then you’ve given someone experience and interest in what they’ve been training to do for the past three years.  

To find out more or to sign up to the Pledge, visit

Stephen Gee is managing partner in John Rowan & Partners