World Youth Skills Day, held this year on 15 July, is an opportunity to celebrate the future of our industry and others, and look at new ways we can upskill young people across the country to help them forge exciting careers. Following the Government’s announcement of more funding for firms taking on apprentices, it is now more important than ever that young people are fully aware of their options.
This year, we asked two of our promising young apprentices in the Midlands Production Management Trainee, Beth Turner and Commercial Trainee, Liv Nicholls for their thoughts on how we can encourage more people to consider construction from an early age.
Does construction make a good career choice for young people?
Liv Nicholls – Commercial Trainee
Construction is a huge part of our country’s economy and affects nearly every other sector – I think that’s why it’s such an interesting industry to be in; the variety in construction is unparalleled.
When people think construction, they think of bricklayers but in reality, there are so many different options you may never even touch a brick! But most young people don’t know about them. There are roles like project management, buyers, designers, surveyors there really is something for everyone.
Beth Turner – Production Management Trainee
I had never really considered a job in construction, until by chance I saw Wates’ advert for its Trainee programme on the website. I certainly had never considered it when I was at school I had the usual preconceptions about it being very male dominated and dirty. But in reality, it’s very different, and with the amount of different career paths available to young people, it seems a real lost opportunity that more don’t consider it.
Why do apprenticeships work so well in construction?
Liv: Apprenticeships are a big part of construction and can be a great way for young people to get experience at work learning and earning – without needing to go down the university path. You can get started early and you don’t need to have any previous experience just a good work ethic, adaptability and willingness to learn.
Beth: There is no substitute for experience – it’s all very well learning the theory in university, but you don’t really understand properly until you see it in practice. Apprenticeships blend learning and experience to help give you the best foundation, and for me, I’m so glad I’ve chosen this route.
Someone like Wates Construction’s MD Mark Tant is a very inspiring example he started off as an apprentice and it’s really encouraging for young people to see that the sky’s the limit without going to university.
What is it like to work in construction right now?
Beth: I think it’s an exciting time to be in construction, especially in somewhere like the Midlands. Boris Johnson’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ speech was filmed just down the road in Dudley.
Now construction is getting pretty much back to normal following lockdown, hopefully there’ll be more projects on the horizon which will give us the chance to experience different specialisms and sectors. As part of our apprenticeship, we work across many different parts of the business, which is a great way to find what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
Liv: Construction has been accused of being slow to change, but one of the best things about Covid is that it has pushed us to use digital technology a lot more such as file sharing, video calls, iPads and field view tools, particularly for quality and inspection.
It’s a lot more efficient, but it’s been a learning curve for some, particularly older members of teams. As we’ve grown up with technology, we’re happier to adapt to using it and it comes naturally we have to show them! ‘Reverse mentoring’ is a great way of sharing knowledge/experience and it’s good to encourage collaboration across teams.
How can we encourage more young people into the industry?
Liv: In order to attract more people into construction, we need to encourage more companies to collaborate and come together on partnership approaches. Construction’s aging population is an industry-wide problem and unless we work together to solve it, no changes can be made.
University isn’t for everyone, and schools and colleges need to do more to advise about alternative routes, partnering with different businesses to host career talks, for example.
Beth: Most construction businesses are SMEs so they don’t always have the resources and programmes to attract young people. Supply chain partners need help attracting young people to apprenticeships, and I think this has got to come from Government. There’s a real lack of understanding around things like how the apprenticeship levy works, and if this was clearer I think we’d see a lot more smaller firms taking on more.
With this in mind, it’s important that bigger firms do as much as they can to increase awareness of the industry to younger people, through things like school visits and Open Days. Wates makes a real point of doing this as much as possible, and schools and colleges should work with firms to do this more too.