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Who wants to work in Construction?

Posted: 8th February 2022

Terry Watts


Chartered Surveyors Training Trust (CSTT)

Let’s set the scene with two headlines from 2021:

Construction will need 216,800 new workers by 2025 to meet demand - CITB

Infrastructure record spend to support 425,000 jobs a year - Construction Enquirer

We have record levels of employment and existing skills shortages, an aging workforce, and issues with migrant workers since Brexit, not included in the CITB estimates.

Where will these people come from?

One source will of course be young people coming into the sector… or will it?

Ask the typical 15-year-old “Have you ever thought of a career in construction?”, I have asked hundreds in my work with the CSTT; few have even heard of surveying! The answers are likely to be along the lines of:

  • “I don’t want to work outside on cold, dirty building sites”
  • “That’s not a place for girls.”
  • “Only if I fail my exams.”
  • “I might go and work for my Dad, he’s a builder.”
  • Or teacher after a site visit “Now if you don’t work hard at school you will end up somewhere like this” (an actual quote!)

To most of the next generation, construction extends to building extensions in their back gardens, cold and dirty housing developments, or mysterious motorway repairs with 3000 bollards over 2 miles and 3 men working on strange trucks, only observed from the family car as they edge past in the traffic jam!

There are 4190 secondary schools in the UK, 3458 in England alone. How many of these see anyone from the Built Environment?

The largest school’s activity is probably via the CITB, although they don’t provide numbers; they do claim over 400,000 hits on their careers site GoConstruct.

The CITB Engage report , prepared with Kier, found that:

  • 90% of schools stated they did not have any engagement with the industry
  • 81% of schools were not aware of any construction educational activities or schemes43% said time was a barrier, 69% said cost, 50% staff and 52% materials.

This was 2017, and they went on to engage 97 teachers, but I doubt much has changed, especially with 2 years of Covid restrictions.

As a sector, we are failing to address the issue of a poor image, of our misunderstood sector and have limited engagement with our best source of new people, school leavers. It is essential that we cultivate interest and engagement now, even if these school leavers will need to continue with further or higher education before joining the sector.

There are actually a plethora of efforts underway to engage schools, from professional bodies, universities, colleges and of course large project S106 budgets funding employers into schools.

Anyone who has run a school’s programme can attest how tough it is to engage schools, and the 100 schools that the biggest programmes tend to reach demonstrates a significant achievement. Unfortunately, the 100 schools equates to 0.23% of secondary schools in the UK! That might be OK if effort was distributed across the country, but alas most effort is localised in London or immediately surrounding major projects. As a result, we ignore probably 80% of the country and miss out on the next generation of talent!

Enough doom and gloom… here is a strategy and a proposal!

To overcome the barriers for schools, we collectively need activities that:

  • Cost the school nothing
  • Require no training and minimal extra work from teachers
  • Enrich the existing curriculum; no timetable changes or out of hours effort
  • Are packed full of engaging content such as videos, case studies and interactive tools
  • Build in career guidance and information (an Ofsted requirement)
  • Provide guidance, presentations and an agenda for a sector representative to engage with students in a meaningful way

However high the quality, are you confident that your organisation’s outreach programmes and activities hits these objectives? Don’t stop what you are doing but increase your impact with minimal effort; the schools will thank you and your members/staff will be grateful. Especially the young employee sent along to the bosses kids school to talk about their job... give me a Construction Week or members forum audience any day!

The My Environment My Future (MEMF) hits all those objectives and enriches the delivery of the Urban Environments module taught in every Geography GCSE and A-level. Every school teaches GCSE Geography equating to 210,000+ 15-year-olds introduced to the built environment every year. The primary aim is to raise awareness of the Built Environment and establish a pipeline for the careers within it. MEMF will gladly incorporate your careers content into the programme. Once young people (and their teachers) understand the Built Environment holds a wealth of rewarding and sustainable career opportunities, they will be directed to more in-depth careers-oriented activity; yes we’re teaching teachers and parents too.

This 3 Minute video gives an introduction, then visit here to download the first of 6 lesson plans and register. The registration is to keep track of how many people are using the materials and gauge the impact. We have 220 schools so far and a target of 500 for 2022 (2000 by 2025!). We believe an industrial scale challenge needs an industrial scale solution!

So here is the catch. We are a small charity, we don’t need funds to deliver MEMF, but we do need to cover admin and web costs and would like to talk contributions with you. We are surprisingly cheap cost effective!

Terry Watts


Chartered Surveyors Training Trust (CSTT)

Terry Watts is the CEO of the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust.