Mace chief operating officer for construction Gareth Lewis says the industry needs to tell young people about the varied and rewarding careers available in the industry.
The construction sector is one ripe with potential for young people from all backgrounds.
Whether you’re aiming to design the UK’s next biggest skyscraper, project manage the construction of key national infrastructure or deliver logistics for thousands of workers across hundreds of sites, there’s a role for everyone.
If you talk to people across the sector, it won’t take you long to realise that for many of them working in construction has allowed them to do things they never thought possible.
How many other jobs allow you to stand in front of something tangible that has transformed a community or improved lives and proudly say: ‘I built that’?
It’s also an industry that particularly respects its non-graduate intake of young employees. Unlike many sectors it provides them with a genuine opportunity to not just develop, but to really excel, progress up through the ranks and take up senior leadership positions.
For those of us in the sector, the scale of opportunity available is obvious. Every day we meet people working hard in the huge wide variety of careers that make up a modern project team or construction business.
From that experience, we know that for every discipline – from IT to HR – there is a unique challenge waiting to be solved by the ambitious young people entering the sector.
Sadly, however, for the school pupils who are beginning to consider their future career, those opportunities may not be so clear.
Research shows that most young people have a strong sense of what they want their future to look like by the age of 12, and that girls and boys hold stereotypical ideas about male and female career options by the age of seven.
We need to consider how construction looks to them. Can they imagine themselves working in our world? If not, why not? It’s important that we do everything we can to encourage people from all backgrounds to join the industry.
At Mace, as part of our work to be a responsible business, we offer an annual volunteer day to all of our employees. In the last year, we’ve been encouraging our staff to use that day to go into their local schools and talk to pupils about the construction industry.
For many of them the opportunities they’ve had in construction have changed their lives and taken them places they never expected to go – and that’s a compelling story for kids just starting to look at the world of work.
Earlier this year, I did so myself. With 15 fellow Mace people from a wide array of disciplines, I visited the Notre Dame High School in Southwark, an all-girls comprehensive school that teaches pupils from 11 to 16.
We split into groups of three and spoke to four different classes about our different jobs – from the legal team to the bid team to running the construction business.
For many of the girls, it was the first time they had considered the possibility of working in construction – either they didn’t think it was something they could do, or they weren’t interested in the first place.
Most of them were surprised by the range of roles available in construction, and they were genuinely excited to hear about some of Mace’s amazing buildings and projects.
Many of them may not choose to make their way into our profession, but some will – and it was clear by the time we left that we’d opened all of their minds to a huge range of new possibilities.
The wider programme we run at Mace is called “Foundations for Your Future”. We’ve prepared simple presentations and teaching materials for each year group, helping staff to speak to pupils of any age about their potential future in construction.
Since starting our formal programme in September last year we’ve presented to more than 500 secondary school pupils, and each time we’ve found that kids end up on average 40% more interested in working in the sector than they were before we spoke to them. Next year we plan to visit primary schools too.
Many of those that we’ve presented to have expressed an interest in our apprenticeship programme, and some have attended our careers events off the back of our sessions at their school.
Our programme is now going international: earlier in October we launched it in South Africa where we presented at a school in Johannesburg. Over the next six months we’re aiming to launch in India, Australia and the US.
Mace’s deputy chief operating officer, Mark Castle, has just been made chair of Build UK. One of his key initiatives this year is “Inspiring Construction”, which encourages people across the industry to take part in activities like our volunteering programme.
Our sector is full of passionate people delivering incredible projects and structures – and it is that passion that is key to inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and project managers.
There’s a job in construction for everyone – but they won’t apply for them if they don’t know they are there.
Gareth Lewis is Mace’s chief operating officer for construction