Paul Drechsler: we need to work harder
Paul Drechsler, chairman and CEO of Wates Group, has urged the industry to fight against a “destructive” anti-corporate public mood that’s turning young people against the world of business.
Speaking at the annual JCT Povey Lecture, which each year invites an eminent speaker to tackle a major topic relevant to the industry, Drechsler warned that increasing numbers of people, especially the young, feel that the corporate world is against them and something to be attacked and defeated.
“The Occupy movement, attacks on the banks, criticism of Vodafone and others for not paying what is seen as their fair share of tax – there is a hostility to business at the moment that is frankly concerning and very destructive,” he said.
Against the backdrop of falling education standards and increased social deprivation, Drechsler said that raising the aspirations of young people should become a major long-term objective for construction. To back his case, he quoted some disturbing statistics: 3.9 million (around a third) of UK children live in poverty; 1 in 5 young people are classified as NEET (not in employment, education or training); the UK ranked 25th in world literacy rankings in 2009 versus 7th in 2003 and 28th in world numeracy versus 8th in 2003.
“[Construction firms] need to work harder than ever to prove that we can make profits and satisfy shareholders and still help those in our society who need a hand-up. If anything, we need to show that, when it comes to social exclusion, dangerous inequality and lack of opportunity, we are part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.
Among the practical moves companies can make, Drechsler highlighted the education initiative Business Class, run by Business in the Community, which works to set up long-term strategic partnerships between businesses and secondary schools in the most deprived communities.
“Business Class is creating a sea change in the way businesses work with secondary schools and focuses on four key pillars: leadership and governance; the curriculum; enterprise and employability as well as wider issues. It is now active in over 220 schools and there are over 145 other well-known companies who have signed up and our numbers are growing every week,” he said.