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The Skills Agenda: why we need more young people in construction
Young people no longer want to work in construction and it is the biggest threat to the industry. A recent study has shown that 77% of construction professionals view the skills shortage as the most pressing issue facing the construction industry. Young people no longer want to join the industry, Inside Housing magazine found that fewer than one in 10 young people would even consider it as a career route.
Construction has disappeared from the list of top 10 occupations for young people, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics, dropping from 7th to 12th in the list of top jobs for young people between the ages of 22 and 29. This slip is the biggest decline for any sector in the survey.
Reasons for this include concerns about construction not being an exciting field to work in and being concerned that they wouldn't be good enough at the job. The respondents who were interested, explained the excitement of the job is more appealing than the money which is backed up by current construction professionals where 72% found the challenging nature of work as the main benefit of a construction career.
Around 230,000 new construction workers are needed by 2020 to support development and refresh an ageing workforce, according to the Construction Industry Training Board.
Matthew Corbett, director of the L&Q Foundation, said: "If we're going to solve our housing crisis, then we need our young people to help – but first we need to increase interest and awareness of the opportunities the industry has to offer.
The average age of a tradesman on a site is now 45 years old. And Brexit is looming."
We are in a position where we need to figure out why young people aren't joining the construction industry and address it.
A number of different contributing factors have been explored including age, attainment and enjoyment, influencers and perceived barriers many of which harvest negativity. Social media and new technology's role in campaigning and shaping young people's career aspirations have also been considered.
Young people appear to be attracted to high profile careers, some of which are new and specific to their generation's interests (e.g. You Tuber), responding well to recognition of success and talent. It is all about having a visible, high profile. Engineering does provide a glimmer of hope for the industry arguably due to increased STEM activity by schools and we need to emulate this across construction.
The Issue we are facing
We've got a large amount of work to do in promoting the industry if we're ever going to fill the gaps in our skills and make trades more appealing to younger people. Access to labour from outside the UK after Brexit is a main concern. There is an enormous amount of competition to attract a limited pool of talent. Currently in construction, we are losing to other industries that are making a better pitch to the next generation.
If we lose skilled European workers, on which UK construction relies, there's a real danger we could reach a point where the industry can no longer deliver everything that is asked of it. This is why now more than ever it is vital for the industry as a whole, and all of its supporting services, to pull together and shrug off the negative stereotypes that make it increasingly harder to attract young people. Construction is an all-encompassing industry that covers hundreds of areas, offering progression and job satisfaction like no other. We need to be able to promote that.
How can we inspire young people to join the construction sector?
Unfortunately, young people do not associate construction with the iconic buildings and structures and their unique and fascinating stories that come alongside them. For too long we have seen a situation where many people are leaving the sector and there aren't enough young people lining up to replace them.
We are at a place where construction is still seen as a macho world with long working hours, that makes people think of muddy boots and unpleasant working conditions. In order to encourage a sustainable pipeline of young diverse talent excited to join our industry, we are going to have to change that perception. The best way of doing so is using the most powerful tool, our people, to discredit the false stereotypes. We need to show the potential and showcase the incredible work being done in this sector.
We see a big opportunity to change perceptions by working with younger children, starting with primary school age and constantly engaging them as they progress through the education system (from 6 upwards). Using education experts, teachers and construction companies we could find a way to bridge the gap between education and the industry and create a joined up approach to change. Almost anyone you meet who works in construction is bursting with pride about the things they've built and the impact their projects have had on the environment and the communities they work in. That's why it is so powerful when those people go into schools across the UK and share their passion with pupils; their enthusiasm is contagious.
What the skills agenda means to us
We are committed to helping address the skills agenda as it is one of the biggest issues facing our industry to date. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) ambassadors are one of the pioneering forces that help to fight stereotypes and increase numbers in those areas. We encourage this at MKC Training and have a few ambassadors of our own. You can read about the experience of our Design Faculty Manager here. We need to replicate this kind of work and campaigns for construction to really move forward and are focusing on how we make the most effective input.
Around 230,000 new construction workers are needed by 2020