Monday, April 7, 2014

Built Environment Professions – Part 2 – Building a brighter future

Due to the decline in the amount of people choosing a career as a construction professional as well as the inevitable skills shortage that will ensue over the coming years, there is an argument for categorising certain building professional roles as ‘at risk’

In my previous article I identified a number of quite alarming statistics that showed a 24% reduction in entrants onto undergraduate building related courses in the five years between 2007/08 and 2011/12. In addition, the number of enrolments onto Architecture, Building and Planning courses is much lower than the vast majority of other subject areas such medicine, sciences, business, social studies and many others.  I then went onto discuss a number of possibly reasons that may explain this, and emphasised the importance of addressing the decline in order to try to safeguard the future of the Construction Professions as we currently know them, in the UK. The main content of this article will therefore consider what can be done to encourage more entrants in to the Construction Professions. I appreciate that there are similar issues with recruitment at other levels of the construction industry, particularly some of the traditional trades (something I will tackle in a later article), however for the purposes of this article I want to focus on Construction professions.

1. Raise awareness of professional career opportunities with the built environment

As I mentioned in my previous article I regularly encounter Careers Advisors in Schools that have little to no knowledge of the range of career opportunities that are available within the built environment.  Careers Advisors are the people that interact with large groups of school kids and have the ability to influence their future career choice.  If we can raise the profile of built environment careers, particularly the relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and educate Careers Advisors about these opportunities we then ‘have the ear’ of a much larger pool of potential future professionals.  It goes without saying that you cannot expect a young person to choose a career that they have never heard about!  We therefore need a national strategic approach to bring built environment careers into the classroom, targeting Careers Advisors as a focal point.

2. Change the perception of Careers in Construction

Many young people I speak to think that a career in the construction industry only relates to wearing a hard hat, working on a muddy site, lifting heavy materials and primarily involving the physical construction of a building.  If this is the general perception of a career in the construction industry it is easy to understand why other subject areas may seem to be an attractive alternative choice for a young person.  Therefore most young people associate working in construction as becoming a bricklayer, carpenter, plasterer, plumber etc.  Whilst these are obvious career routes for which a person can enjoy and make a perfectly good living, there are many other professional roles that are available. Part of addressing this issue can be achieved by raising awareness of professional built environment careers as described in point 1 above, however more needs to be done to portray a professional career in the built environment for what it really is; ‘exciting, diverse and challenging which leads to good career prospects and a good salary’.

3. Encourage more females into Professional Construction Roles

The Guardian (online) published a recent article (21st March 2014), entitled; ‘High-tech, multi-skilled construction industry needs more women’ (Link); Given the stereotype I have just described above it is interesting that the main image within the article is a female with a hard hat and safety goggles, standing in front of a half finished building! The article provides interesting reading and states;
Women are transforming the world of work. The number of women in the workforce has increased by more than 20% over the past 20 years, and today they make up nearly half of the workforce. More women than ever before are going to university and more are in vocational training. Women now account for 50% of all staff in financial services, 49% of all those working in the media, 46% all doctors, 27% of all police officers and 24% of all judges.
But not every industry is welcoming women into the workplace. As the latest Smith Institute report shows, construction remains largely a no-go area for women. Despite the fact that the sector is a major employer and is desperately short of skilled people, women only account for 11% of the workforce – and only 1% of the manual trades.
We need to attract this vast amount of ‘untapped’ female potential in order to address the disparity between the number of males and females within the construction industry. Clearly, encouraging more females into the Construction Industry provides a huge opportunity for the future of the Construction Professions.  Addressing points 1 and 2 above will help, however more needs to be done to promote these exciting careers to females who may not have contemplated this type of career before. A strategic targeted events programme, providing a ‘taster experience’ of different construction professional roles should be introduced to encourage more females into the construction industry, in addition to other events and marketing activities.

4. Government Support

Given the significant contribution made to the economy by the construction industry each year (circa 8% to 10% of GDP), the UK Government should be lobbied to provide support and assistance to safeguard the industry for future generations. Due to the decline of the amount of people choosing a career as a construction professional as well as the inevitable skills shortage that will ensue over the coming years, there is an argument for categorising certain building professional roles as ‘at risk’.  This should then attract funding to those identified careers to encourage more people into the professions and could take the form of grants or subsidies to help support tuition fees, funding of targeted marketing campaigns, funding of education programmes in Schools and Colleges and numerous other initiative.

The above represents a number of suggestions of how we can address the current decline in the numbers of people, particularly young people choosing a career as a construction professional. The suggestions are far from exhaustive and will hopefully act as a starting point and generate debate on how we can react to the problem in order to safeguard the future of the Construction Professions.  Ignoring the problem really in not an option!

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