The message that digital construction plays a key role in major projects is not being shared with the next generation, says Ibrahim Imam of PlanRadar
It is no secret that construction has a longstanding image problem when it comes to attracting new talent. For many, particularly those imminently entering the working world, the sector lacks the excitement, glamour and prestige of other traditionally white-collar professions.
This poor appetite for both on and off-site roles among millennials and generation Z should be deeply concerning for contractors up and down the UK. With a greying, comparatively undiverse workforce and a Brexit-caused shortage of imported skills labour, UK Construction plc risks grinding to a halt unless it can engage and inspire a healthy proportion of home-grown talent to pursue a career in the built environment.
So why do younger people view the industry in this way and what can we do to get ahead of the problem? One persistent – and problematic – perception is that the sector is still a low-tech, predominantly manual profession, still reliant on offline tools and methods.
An impressionable young talent pool still think building constitutes bricks, mortar and hard toil for little return
Of course, we know that these views are outdated. Digital construction now plays a starring role in many of today’s major construction projects. However, this is not being consistently communicated to an impressionable young talent pool who still think building constitutes bricks, mortar and hard toil for little return.
With this firmly in mind, it is time for the sector to step forward and demonstrate how it is evolving within the digital age, to appeal to a generation of school leavers and graduates who are on the front line of online culture.
We need urgently to cast aside the false attitude that construction is an archaic industry, but it can only be achieved by adopting a tech-first approach, using digital construction to showcase a profession as diverse as the workforce we want to attract.
First, it is important to recognise that, for young people of today, technology is the epicentre of their daily lives. Whether it is for communication, education, travel or entertainment, they look to tablets, smartphones and touchscreens day-in-day-out.
So, it stands to reason that, if the sector wants to make itself more appealing, it must also be regarded as a keen digital adopter that not only harnesses technology but pioneers it on the world stage.
Finding ways to highlight the benefits of digital construction in terms of its environmental impact could help to win the hearts and minds
The digital-first approach is far from being the industry’s only option. With younger generations rightly focused on sustainability, finding ways to highlight the benefits of digital construction in terms of its environmental impact could help to win the hearts and minds of those unaware of its potential.
The government’s drive around sustainable housing and infrastructure may be one such lever, marking an important step in the UK’s battle to tackle carbon dioxide emissions while creating lucrative job opportunities and a demand for digital expertise in the process.
The evolution of construction technology also has the power to diversify the current workforce, which still suffers from the stale, male and pale moniker. Only last year, CIOB research revealed that only 15% were women, 6% were BAME and a further 6% had disabilities.
It is far from where the industry wants to be but, as ConTech becomes more central to building processes year-on-year, there is a greater prospect of attracting a more diverse range of applicants by offering a greater choice of roles, both on and off site.
Digital construction: an exciting time
The current recruitment drive is missing a trick, failing to showcase many of the truly exciting technological innovations which are enhancing the industry, and broadening the range of hard and soft skills that can succeed in construction.
ConTech is booming like never before, and tools that were once science fiction are now very much the reality, helping to drive up quality, improve safety and reduce material waste.
AI, VR and AR, and even exoskeleton devices that ease the burden of heavy lifting are trends set to shape the industry in coming years. For generations raised with technology as a constant companion, this should present an attractive proposition.
On a more mundane level, digital tools, apps and cloud-based platforms – which most school leavers will be more than proficient in using – are becoming the standard administrative tools in the industry. This means faster on-boarding and immediate proficiency with organisational systems, allowing the sell-in of more exciting, higher-value propositions in recruitment messaging, with the assurance the day-to-day will be competently handled.
Make that change
Fundamentally, if construction wants to attract a younger, more diverse talent pool, organisations need to create the digital culture to facilitate it.
Increasing levels of digital adoption within a business is a good place to start. Companies working with the latest and greatest digital technology will be more attractive to a younger generation on the lookout for potential careers.
Recruitment drives also need to be loud and proud about the type of work taking place, and a marketing push will be necessary if we are to change perceptions. This includes being mindful of job descriptions, using language that highlights a more tech-focused approach.
Finally, investing in digital training opportunities will help to build momentum for those looking to join the workforce. Today’s younger generation are mindful of their time and work-life balance is a priority.
This includes providing roles that allow for remote working and flexibility between time at home, offices and on-site. This trend is already taking place and it is a fair assumption that Gen Z will come to expect this as they enter the workforce.
Companies which understand this and have systems already in place that improve the efficiency of day-to-day tasks will be better placed to attract the top talent.
Ibrahim Imam is co-founder and co-CEO of PlanRadar
Every Person Counts
Our Every Person Counts coverage, which we are launching on International Women’s Day, aims to provide a place where debates about skills, employment and workplace culture can play out and solutions can be shared.
We know the construction industry has no shortage of suggestions for tackling the skills crisis. From reforming apprenticeships, to offering more flexibility, to increasing diversity, to providing better pathways from education to the workplace. We will be picking up on all these themes in more depth in future articles.
If you have an employment initiative you want to tell us about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Every Person Counts”. You can also contact us via Twitter @BuildingNews and LinkedIn @BuildingMagazine, please use the hashtag #everypersoncounts. We look forward to hearing your employment stories.