Attracting a new generation to the construction industry is vital, says Aquila PM’s Louise Rodrigues
Globally, there’s a reported shortage of skills in the construction industry, with a steady decline of new undergraduates and thus talent for firms to recruit. There’s an immediate need to appeal to the new generation so as to avoid a catastrophic decrease in the availability of skills, a spike in demand for the declining remaining talent and a skewed vision of the workforce, which will invariably have an impact on the value of the industry.
It’s important to understand and acknowledge why the industry is failing to attract the next generation. Around the world, the construction industry has a reputation for being an outdated, traditional work environment that uses antiquated education and training methods. This is compounded by a long pathway to career progression, with an apprentice-style training route. It is believed that other industries offer a fast-track route to success.
There is also a perception that the industry is not glamourous, and it often isn’t. We don’t need to pretend that it is, though, because it is actually fun and can be quite gratifying – breathing life into a design on paper and watching it become a real, life-sized dream that contributes in some way to our world is extremely rewarding.
In order to attract the next generation of professionals, organisations within the industry need to start thinking about what they want to achieve in the future, and that means thinking about the people they want to attract. It may sound like a cliché, but construction companies need creative, fun, hard-working, energetic teams who challenge each other to create and deliver the best projects.
While it’s essential to promote the critical issue of attracting young people, it’s also important to send an appropriate message that appeals to them. We have to ask ourselves: Would the fact that an industry was screaming out in desperation for new recruits have influenced us at career-choice stage? I think not.
Today’s industry veterans had the same desires as the new generation; the only difference is that young people now have a lot more exposure to exciting and interesting career options. Unfortunately for the construction industry, competition in terms of career options is extremely high.
For the industry to thrive and attract new talent, young people need to see the positive side of the construction industry. Today, I think it’s safe to say that it can be quite a hard sell. Potential candidates are all thinking: What is inspiring about the position? What would motivate us? Is it worth investing my mind and time (a luxury that few give away easily)? Thinking about all this, you also start to wonder what sold veterans on the industry all those years ago.
Some twenty years ago, my first job and first bosses were off-the-scale fun, encouraging and inspiring. They made coming to work enjoyable and had a positive leadership attitude. The deadlines were challenging and clients were demanding (nothing has changed), but the ‘work hard, play hard’ approach is something that still drives me now.
In fact, the reasons I chose the industry then are the same reasons I’m here today. I saw opportunities such as the following:
- Meeting new interesting people, with diverse backgrounds
- Opportunity to travel and work overseas
- A career that was not bound to a desk, with a good variety of tasks, indoors and outdoors
- Constant change, taking a project from inception to handover, in an ever-changing environment
- A career with possibilities for growth
- Being part of and leading major project teams – we often take for granted the fact that so many people form a project team, each person with an important role to play
- The legacy footprint – I have worked on projects that will survive my existence by many, many years. That in itself is such a special contribution to make
What’s apparent now is that to attract the new generation to the industry, we have to cover all of the technical aspects; dispel negative stereotypes; create exposure to the variety of creative career options and paths; and offer work placements and better career advice at school level.
Moreover, once we have new people expressing interest in the field, we still need to maintain the ‘people elements’ through a positive internal and external work culture, by embracing new, progressive business models and work environments, and trusting staff, especially young people that are currently on board who already believe in the industry. We need to remember, that these are the people who will take things forward and be the role models of the future – your business succession plan. The young people of today need to be able to see themselves in your shoes in the future, to inspire them to want to be there.