Features - Business

How to Secure the Construction Industry’s Talent Pipeline

Sam Hyams is the founder of Springpod, a virtual careers network which partners with many of the UK’s leading businesses, schools and universities to facilitate virtual work experience programmes, events and careers networking. In this feature, he writes about construction and Brexit.

Whilst it is difficult to predict what 2021 has in store, one certainty for the construction sector is the impact on recruitment from European countries when the transition period ends.

EU nationals make up 7% of the UK construction industry’s workforce. When considered against the fact that there has been a 95% decrease in EU Nationals entering the UK workforce since June 2016, and the potential for currently residing EU workers to leave the UK, companies need to be putting measures in place now to secure their talent pipeline. One such measure must be a greater focus on the next generation and inspiring them to look to construction as a potential career path.

And there is no time to waste.

Our recent research showed that nearly a fifth of young people are thinking about their career choices as early as primary school. Alongside that, stereotypes persist about what sort of person goes into what sort of career – boys still favour technology and engineering, whilst girls are more attracted to medicine and psychology.

The risk is that the assumptions made about the construction industry mean that young people who have the right skills, creativity, and motivation to contribute enormously, don’t consider it as ‘for them.’

So, the challenge is two-fold. The industry needs to attract more young people, and to broaden its appeal.

The new online world

If the pandemic has inspired any positive changes, it is the digitalisation of interaction.  The time is ripe for companies to engage with young people outside of their usual boundaries, from geography to socio-economic.

A recent OECD report brings home the scale of the challenge. They found that by the age of just seven years old, young people are already facing limitations on their career aspirations because of ingrained stereotyping about social background, gender, and race. And it is not just stereotyping, there are well recognised routes for young people depending on their parent’s jobs, or who they know.

When it comes to work experience for example, for those whose parents don’t have the sort of job where they can bring you along in half term, or set up an introduction to a colleague, then exposure to different career routes are limited. The result is a whole cohort of skilled young people not knowing that a variety of paths are indeed open to them.

And this is not just an issue for young talent. The result is companies having narrower pools of recruitment and missing out on the chance to attract and retain the best people.

An additional factor is that generation Z are coming through education into the world of work as the most digital social group yet. The construction industry is changing, with increasing automation, digitalisation, and consequently different recruitment needs. Investment in construction technology has doubled in the past decade, meaning it is imperative that companies in the sector are attracting enough of their natural affinity with innovative technology and its benefits.

Diversifying talent

Property company JLL is showing what can be done. They have reached out to engage with young people, targeting groups that historically have not applied to JLL in large numbers, through a virtual work experience scheme in partnership with Springpod. In doing so they are opening their doors to prospective talent, to show what their work entails and to inspire more young people to consider property management, surveying, building, and investing in real estate as a career option.

The scheme comprises live workshops with various JLL teams, from property development to commercial valuation, and issues associated assignments. Students from anywhere in the country, who attended state school, can take part in the ten hour course, gaining insight, knowledge, and an accolade for their CV.

The scheme is proving to be a powerful lever in attracting a broader range of students. In a cohort of 132, 63% were black or ethnic minority students, and over half were female. Furthermore, 86% of attendees had parents who didn’t go to University, and just over half had been on free school meals. Add into this that the virtual nature of the scheme means students were not limited by their location, or lack of funds to travel to and stay in London for the week, the scheme’s diversity demonstrates the myriad of benefits of virtual work experience and learning. This bodes well for the industry because multiple recent studies have shown that companies with more diverse workforces tend to enjoy higher profitability – everyone is winning.

The next chapter

The UK construction industry is a global player. If we are to maintain that status and the £117 billion contribution that the industry makes to the UK economy, the acute shortage of skills in the UK requires action now to build a powerful, data-driven talent pipeline.

There is a role to play for Government and schools, but the reality is, business needs to actively engage with young people throughout their time in education, to build the next generation of construction talent.

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