Those who have entered the construction sector in the past few years could be forgiven for feeling they had made an error on the scale of marching on Russia just as the nights are drawing in
The latest generation have watched as the projects have dried up, salaries have been frozen and the chance of a glamorous stint in Dubai has been replaced by the alluring prospect of a standard fare to Sidcup to scrap over the latest cardboard-box-sized primary school scheme.
For this generation, the chance of a stint in Dubai has been replaced by the prospect of a standard fare to Sidcup to scrap over the latest cardboard-box-sized primary school scheme
But, remarkably, the overwhelming majority of these young people do not regret their decision to enter the industry. Our survey of young construction professionals this week found that 91.4% of them would still choose a career in the sector even if they could turn back the clock and pick again.
That construction still has so much appeal for young people, despite both its historic difficulties with attracting recruits and the economic climate, is great news for the sector. We might not be short of hands now, but it is a point laboured by training bodies and professional groups that unless the industry retains its young workers, and recruits more, it is setting a time bomb for when its ageing workforce retires. The industry should also be congratulated for its success: despite being frequently lambasted for a poor public image when it comes to attracting new recruits, many of its firms clearly have the ability to keep young people on board.
But that praise also comes with a warning: it is vital never to forget the value of these workers. Building’s 101 Under 28 project, launched this week, is a poll group of young professionals which aims to ensure their voices are heard against the clamour of the industry they work in. One of the striking things about our first survey is how realistic, and even undemanding, our 101 twentysomethings are in their expectations of employers.
Many of these young people do not have mortgages and children, the traditional barometers by which older colleagues are made inescapably aware that they have plunged into an economic hell. But they are the group most likely to know people who cannot find a job, or who, having fleetingly found enough work to become independent, suddenly find themselves back on their parents’ doorstep. Many are acutely aware of how tough it is for companies at the moment and, consequently, job satisfaction and career progression were picked out as the most valued qualities in a job; salary and the opportunity to work abroad - two major draws when many of the group were starting out - were ranked much lower.
Firms ought, then, to listen to their younger workers when they talk about making cultural changes that are free to implement but would hugely benefit their experience of the industry, such as creating more opportunities to mix with colleagues from different sectors. But just as importantly, employers also need to ensure that the realism of these young workers is not used as an excuse for exploitation. Just because a 23-year-old graduate is no longer demanding a position in Dubai with a company sports car, it doesn’t mean that it’s OK to pay them a pittance or - in the case of interns - nothing at all. As Angela Brady, the RIBA president-elect, pointed out last week, this is a huge problem within many firms in the industry, and it’s no way to treat the people who could be the key to your company’s future success - or survival.
Sarah Richardson, acting editor