At Building's launch of the Good Employers Guide recent recruits provided some insights into what they want from work, and it's not just a generous pay-packet ...

Sophie Campbell didn’t pull any punches. “The first thing that attracted me to Sheppard Robson was the salary,” she said. A roomful of HR people sighed wistfully, hopes dashed, fears confirmed.

Yes, young people are the same as the rest of us and when it comes to choosing a job, they don’t care how many bicycle loans or structured training programmes you promise them.

Campbell was speaking at the launch of Building’s Good Employer Guide in London yesterday, one of four recent recruits to the industry who were there to explain exactly how the assembled employers could hope to attract a bright young thing like them.

Graduates are a rare sight in construction these days – the HR types eyed them hungrily like a pride of starving lions encountering a very small colony of wildebeest.

Building editor Denise Chevin had asked them why they chose their current employers. It was a bit reminiscent of comedy old lady Mrs Merton asking Debbie McGee “what she saw in the multimillionaire Paul Daniels”. After all, when you’ve spent three/four/seven years living on baked beans and amassing enough student debt to crash a subprime lender, starting salaries are, well, quite likely to be a consideration.

But it wasn’t all about the money. Cost manager Tom Wallbank said he chose Turner & Townsend for its high chartership exam pass rate, graduate engineer Aaron Wall said he took immediately to his future line manager in WSP’s Manchester office and Campbell added that she liked Sheppard Robson’s range of projects and all the restaurants near its Regent’s Park office. For sports science graduate-turned building surveyor Alistair Lloyd, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor clinched the deal by bothering to talk to him at all.

It turns out that so-called “non-cognates” – anyone foolish enough to choose a degree unrelated to construction – receive a surprisingly poor reception from employers in construction. Four enterprising HR types took to the stage to explain how actually, once trapped, they tasted, sorry worked, almost the same as normal wildebeest.

A tenth of Mace’s graduate intake didn’t study construction, at Davis Langdon, it’s a quarter. DL partner Jill Pett said her star performer was a former psychiatric nurse: “I was thinking of using a line saying ‘if you’ve done psychiatry, come and work for Davis Langdon…”

In fact, non-cognates were consistently the highest performing recruits – they don’t have too much trouble picking up the techy stuff (albeit within a heavy duty catch-up training regime) and they can even hold conversations with other people.

One man tried a non-cognate once but it didn’t work and now he’s run off to Spain. “Don’t give up,” exhorted the panel.

How was the industry going to attract more of these bizarre animals?, someone asked. Should it be individual companies or a more linked up industry wide effort? Everyone believed there should be more collaboration and working together. Just don’t ask them to send their staff out anywhere where those recruitment consultant jackals might be lying in wait.

And with that, they stampeded to the back to pick up their copy of the Good Employer Guide to find out exactly how they measured up to the competition.