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Nurturing Talents and Future Skills in the Built Environment: Reflections from the CIC Annual Member Conference

Posted: 17th June 2024

Dr Wei Yang

CIC Chair (until June 2025)

It was a pleasure to chair the annual Construction Industry Council (CIC) Members' Conference, bringing together Chief Executives, Presidents, Chairs, and senior leaders from built environment professions. As we convene to discuss "Nurturing Talents and Future Skills," it is crucial to reflect on our responsibilities as industry leaders. The built environment is at a pivotal juncture, and we must attract and retain the brightest talents more urgently than ever. Our evolving industry demands that we foster an environment of innovation, inclusivity, and continuous growth.

CIC Members Conference 2024
CIC Members'Conference 2024

The Urgency of Attracting Young Talent
The pressing need to draw young minds into our field cannot be overstated. Our first keynote speaker Amanda Clack, EMEA Regional CEO of HKA, highlighted that we must begin engaging with potential future professionals at a very young age. The issues we face are well-known, yet the strategies to address them require innovative approaches. We must redefine diversity—not just as a metric, but as an embrace of individuality and inclusion. Creating a work environment where everyone can be their authentic selves is paramount. Authentic leadership, wherein leaders genuinely embody the values they advocate for, sets the tone for organisational culture.

The Power of Storytelling
One of the most compelling methods to inspire the next generation is by sharing our personal journeys. Our pre-conference keynote speaker, Sumita Singha OBE, set a remarkable precedent. Why did we enter our profession? Our stories can resonate deeply with young people, illustrating the impact and fulfilment that a career in the built environment can offer. Leveraging various media platforms, both traditional like books and social media, can amplify our reach and engage a broader audience. We must harness these tools to make our narratives compelling and accessible.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)
Every business needs a robust D&I strategy, not just as a compliance measure but as a cornerstone of its operational ethos. The Equality Act of 2010 provides a framework for understanding and implementing inclusive practices, but it is up to us to breathe life into these principles. Prioritising the attraction of female talent is a crucial step, as is addressing the retention issues highlighted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), where many women tend to leave the profession at mid-career stages. Ensuring that we have a welcoming environment for all, including neurodivergent individuals, is essential.

Addressing Generational Dynamics
With four generations coexisting in the workplace, we face unique challenges and opportunities. The knowledge and expertise of older generations are invaluable, and we must create pathways for their wisdom to be passed on. Simultaneously, we need to foster an environment where younger professionals can thrive without being overwhelmed by excessive responsibilities. Programmes like CIHT’s free student and apprenticeship memberships are excellent initiatives that offer a “try before you buy” approach, allowing young talents to explore the field without immediate commitment.

Building a Collaborative and Inclusive Culture
Our sector lags behind others in creating an inclusive workforce that goes beyond box-ticking exercises. True inclusivity involves creating safe spaces where individuals can express themselves freely and feel valued for their unique contributions. This is not only a moral imperative but also a business necessity, as a diverse workforce drives innovation and resilience.

Mentorship and Role Models
Visible role models are crucial. Young people need to see leaders who look like them and who have succeeded in their careers. This visibility can inspire and motivate the next generation to pursue and persist in the built environment professions. Mentorship programmes, particularly those that connect individuals with mentors who share similar backgrounds, can be transformative.

Engaging with Education and Community
Our engagement with educational institutions must start early. Our second keynote speaker Professor Malcolm Cook, Dean of School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, Loughborough University highlighted the value of interdisciplinarity in the current higher education.

Also, initiatives like the RTPI’s ‘balance’ toolkit, which encourages professionals to speak at schools, are vital. We must actively participate in shaping the perception of the built environment as a desirable career choice. Industry professionals visiting schools to share their experiences can demystify the profession and ignite interest among students.

The Future Skills Landscape
Looking ahead, we must predict and prepare for the skills needed in the future. Competency goes beyond theoretical knowledge - it encompasses skills, experience, and behaviour. Apprenticeships and hands-on learning opportunities are invaluable, especially in light of the rising cost of university education. Encouraging innovation and practical problem-solving within educational frameworks will better prepare graduates for the realities of the industry.

Addressing Global Challenges through Interdisciplinarity
The built environment plays a critical role in addressing global challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity, and urbanisation. Interdisciplinary collaboration is key to developing sustainable solutions. We must engage with academia and industry partners to ensure that we are graduating individuals with the skills needed to tackle these complex issues.

Finally, be the Change
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our keynote speakers and to Ian Brant, Aled Williams, Glenn Lyons, Lindsey Richards, Jessica Taylor, Eddie Weir, Kirsten Wiltshire, Maryam Al-Irhayim, Gill Hancock, Rob Hughes, Simon Pitchers, and Mark Stephenson for their excellent contributions to our rich discussion. A special thank you goes to Liz Drummond for organising the conference.

Ultimately, the responsibility to nurture talent and foster future skills in the built environment lies with each of us. We must embody the change we wish to see through visionary leadership, continuous improvement, and a commitment to inclusivity and collaboration. By sharing our stories, engaging with the next generation, and creating supportive, diverse work environments, we can ensure a vibrant and resilient future for our industry.

Let us begin today, for the future of the built environment depends on the actions we take NOW.

Dr Wei Yang

CIC Chair (until June 2025)

Dr Wei Yang is an internationally renowned town planner and urban designer who champions a place-based whole systems approach to tackle the grand challenges of our times. She is an influential thought leader and a powerful advocate for climate actions, nature-based solutions, health & well-being, and social equality.

Wei has extensive experience in leading multi-disciplinary teams and implementing large-scale regeneration and low carbon master planning projects in Britain and internationally. Her professional strengths lie in combining innovative planning inspirations with feasible implementation solutions. She is also a popular keynote speaker, an author, and a scholar.

Wei was President for 2021 of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). She champions a revival of spirit and a modernised planning profession to tackle the global challenges in a systematic way, and thus to achieve collective wellbeing and fulfilment for all.

Wei is a lead figure in researching, promoting, and implementing 21st Century Garden City and green & low-carbon development approach worldwide. She is co-author of a bestselling book, Humanistic Pure Land and Garden Cities (Shi & Yang, 2021).

Wei is also co-founder and CEO of the Digital Task Force for Planning and co-author of A Digital Future for Planning – Spatial Planning Reimagined (Batty & Yang, 2022) which outlines blueprint for digital transformation of spatial planning and the sector’s future.

Through her leadership in various areas, Wei builds a bridge between research, development and policy via her understanding of and belief in the full potential of spatial panning as a pivotal applied science discipline.

She is a Fellow of Academy of Social Sciences, a Fellow of the RTPI, a Member of Chartered Institute of Highway and Transportation (CHIT), a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Client Advisor, and an Honorary Professor at University College London.

Wei also holds a number of board-level and advisory roles across different sectors. She is a board member of the British Library and Chair of its Capital Portfolio Committee, a Global Planner Networks (GPN) representative at the UN Habitat Professional Forum, and a Professionals Co-Chair of the UN Habitat World Urban Campaign Steering Committee.