If our industry is to attract the rising generation, it needs to show them that we have truly moved into the 21st century 

Mark farmer 2017 bw

Attracting the brightest and best young talent into any industry is tough. But some industries have it easier than others. Whether it’s through building great brand awareness, offering next-generation working environments, applying cutting-edge technology or simply gaining a reputation for looking after staff, the likes of finance, technology and law have an abundant pool of young talent to pick from. Deutsche Bank, for instance, reported that more than 110,000 young people applied for its graduate programme last year, with only 600 having a chance of succeeding to the next stage. 

We need to compete better with other industries in the war for talent, by constructing and using a new authentic narrative for the industry

Unfortunately, the construction industry is at the other end of the spectrum and seems to be moving in the wrong direction. With an aging workforce and an inability to attract a large enough cohort of young talent to join its ranks, it faces steady decline. It is even more frustrating that, unlike in finance, technology and law, we often create a lasting legacy to be proud of yet cannot convince young people that the process is worth participating in. Our increased reliance on overseas workers in professional, technical and trade roles is simply a reflection of the fact that domestic homegrown talent just doesn’t see the industry as an aspirational career, despite the ability to earn good money. Brexit now looms, of course, adding further fuel to the fire. 

Not surprisingly in today’s society, TV, print and social media have all increasingly played their part in reinforcing a negative image of the construction sector. By rightly reporting on the many problems surrounding new-build quality or poor delivery performance of major projects, the prevailing public image of British construction is of an industry defunct, and bereft of leadership. More often than not construction is seen as a last-chance saloon for young workers, rather than a stable and rewarding career worth pursuing. 

It pains me to say it, but the plethora of school outreach programmes and image improvement initiatives being run by industry bodies and businesses are on the whole not fundamentally addressing the core issue of needing to change what our industry does and how it does it. All the good intentions are just sticking-plasters to a systemic misalignment between a generational shift in work-life balance aspirations and the career opportunities we offer, defined largely by traditional ways of creating built assets. 

My father was a stonemason and my eldest son is about to graduate as an urban planner. I am proud of my family’s lineage in the built environment, but I want that to continue sustainably based on it being an enjoyable and rewarding process, not just a family calling.

Late last year, architect and TV presenter George Clarke asked me to join his Ministry of Building Innovation+Education (Mobie) charity as a trustee. It was a quick and easy decision based on the shared passion George and I have – to positively disrupt the industry and finally move the built environment into the 21st century. George’s TV work shows what you can do if you bring dynamic and passionate advocacy to the world of creating quality homes and spaces that celebrate both simplicity and cutting-edge creative innovation. He has built empathy with a younger generation and a highly diverse audience much more effectively than any construction industry or government image initiative could.

We need to compete better with other industries in the war for talent, by constructing and using a new authentic narrative for the industry. This must align with the path the industry needs to take to secure its future. It must be led by how we combine human design flair and creativity with a new way of making, in order to create great products and happy customers. We need a consumer and quality led process with great design at its heart: design for innovation, design for manufacture and assembly, and design for beauty. It’s no accident that some of the most successful businesses in the world are design, engineering and technology led. Construction needs to move towards this space quickly.

Mobie is therefore aiming to inspire a diverse audience by applying these simple principles and getting people to think and behave in a different way. Our goal is to revolutionise the way we design and deliver high-quality homes, by training a new generation of workers in new skills and attributes. 

Mobie brings a deep-rooted and practical focus on multidisciplinary working – delivering higher and further education programmes from HNC to master’s degree level that focus on creative, communication and technical skills. This is all supported by applied digital innovation across design, on-site and offsite manufacturing, commercial operations, planning and integrated assembly. Mobie is also running truly meaningful school engagement events to start sending out a fresh message with real conviction. We will work with the general public, central and local government, progressive employers, educators, research and development institutions and new-wave innovators to make our ambitions a reality.

Expect to hear a lot more about Mobie in 2019 and beyond: we are planning some exciting and ambitious new initiatives that could be central to the industry’s wider transformation. We have support from some impressive stakeholders and will increasingly look to start filling the gaps that current education and construction sector policies and institutions have left behind and which risk hindering our industry’s progress.

Mark Farmer is chief executive officer of consultant Cast and trustee of charity Mobie