I have been earning my living in the construction industry for over 40 years now and it never ceases to amaze me how poorly understood an industry it is by the society that benefits so much from its outcomes — from roads and reservoirs, to schools and hospitals.
Construction is a great way of generating economic activity – for every £1m invested in construction projects it generates £3m in the greater economy. Hand in hand with these economic effects are the job creation opportunities. At times of high unemployment, construction activity can be focussed upon the areas of greatest deprivation and it is possible to mobilise local job recruitment much faster than in other industries.
As our economy grows out of recession, the opportunities for young people to develop successful, well paid careers in construction will continue to grow. But at the moment industry is struggling to find them. And with skill shortages already impinging on overall industry capacity, it seems to be a piece of economic madness that we still have a quarter of a million households that have no experience of the world of work.
Communication is the key…
As a Civil Engineer who entered the industry in the early 70s, I have never had any regrets about my own career choice. The opportunity for advancement, travel, and remuneration are far more attractive than many other careers and industries. Our problem on matching our recruitment targets appears to be about our ability or, should I say, inability to communicate what is good about construction.
We need to do more to demonstrate to the target audience the incredible opportunity for successful careers that exist. As many older skilled construction workers move closer to retirement, the industry has the capacity and the desire to recruit young men and women through apprenticeships and other training programmes.
As a good example I am hopeful that the recent BBC documentary “The £15bn railway” (all about Crossrail) will begin to address this communication gap. This first class piece of film-making gives an extremely good portrayal of this most exciting and challenging of projects carried out by one of the most diverse and talented teams of people. It ranges from the young man responsible for fitting the tunnel panels behind the massive tunnelling machine, to the female structural engineer devising a way of converting an eighteenth century brick arch tunnel into something fit for the 21st century railway that will run under Central London.
…and action on the ground too
Businesses can do more on the ground too. My own company working with social housing providers and a local voluntary organisation have created work opportunities in the South Wales valleys for young people previously deemed unemployable.
By working hand in hand with public authorities and social enterprises, I firmly believe that the construction industry can find the people we need and at the same time offer rewarding and exciting careers for the next generation that helps them to fulfil their potential.
Steve has over 40 years’ experience in the construction industry and in 1998 led a management buy-in at Midas Group. A graduate civil engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Building, Steve was chair of the CBI in the South West and is Chairman of the CBI Construction Council. Steve is also involved in various charities.