Opinion: Changing perceptions to build a bright career path

Brian McQuade

Brian McQuade argues that construction needs to take a fresh look to encourage more young people to consider a career in this sector.

The construction industry in Scotland needs thousands more recruits each year in order to meet project demands and a recent report by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that £8 billion will be spent on building projects this year alone requiring around 247,000 workers. With an ageing workforce and not enough young people entering the sector, the workforce is shrinking and we are in the midst of a well-publicised skills shortage.

We certainly have very talented people within our industry - we just need to attract more of them. Now, more than ever, we need to showcase the built environment as innovative, exciting and rewarding, and shake-off the misconception that it is largely ‘male’, ‘muddy’ and ‘manual’, not to mention ‘poorly paid’ and largely ‘non-academic’.

Research into perceptions of the industry makes for sobering reading. Indeed, findings from our own research of 2,000 parents, teachers and careers advisors showed there is a distinct lack of careers advice available in secondary schools, with many receiving as little as ‘one hour once’ which is nowhere near enough time for schoolchildren to understand the opportunities available to them, let alone to consider work experience as a first step.

The perception of working in construction compared to the reality is worlds apart. The industry offers a wealth of opportunities for those interested in making a real impact on the landscape of tomorrow. The sector is incredibly diverse and has a breadth of job opportunities available; from quantity surveying to project management and HR with a huge variety of entry routes and an abundance of opportunities for career progression.

It’s so important that young people are encouraged to take a fresh look at careers in our industry. That’s why at Kier, we have pledged 1% of our workforce – including current and previous apprentices – to act as Kier Career Ambassadors, working with schools and colleges to engage with 10,000 students over the next 12 months.

Kier in Scotland employs over 600 people and with over 200 working within our construction arm, we’re well placed to demonstrate the huge diversity of projects and careers available to young people. In the last year alone we’ve invested 500 hours in engaging with nearly 6,000 Scottish school pupils.

Our 1% pledge is part of our Shaping Your World campaign designed to inspire generation Z (11 – 15 year olds) to consider a role within the built environment. With fun and engaging content, including the ability to create unique avatars, interact with augmented reality and engage with Virtual World Plaques at sites across the country, including at the Aberdeen Music Hall, and, when work begins on site, at both the Burrell Museum and Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

These plaques explain the history of the site or building, the work we are doing, the people behind it and the benefits it brings to the local community. Clients can also use it to promote their own messages and aspirations for the project. And of course, it provides an informative window to the various career pathways into construction, whether that is as a profession or a trade.

The message seems to be hitting home. The campaign’s dedicated website is attracting over 10,000 visitors each month. We’ve also been implementing a high profile social media campaign to spread the message further and ensure we are visible on the platforms we know young people are using.

The built environment has so much to offer – it provides people, from whatever background, the opportunity to start a career in an exciting environment that shapes the world we all live in.

As an industry, we all have a responsibility to promote our important sector and to implement new initiatives, like Shaping Your World, to further engage and inform young people to consider a career in construction. The landscape of this sector has since transformed and can offer a solid foundation to build a flourishing and rewarding career.

Brian McQuade is managing director for Kier Construction Scotland

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