Today’s school leavers can spearhead sector’s future

Lauren Brown

By Lauren Brown, project manager, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian regional group

CAREERS in the construction industry still hold great interest for young people who are on the cusp of finishing school and weighing up their career choices. However, like most industry sectors, construction is fighting for its share of the talent pool and it relies heavily on bodies such as the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to make the compelling case to young people that the industry really does offer an exciting and challenging career.

Get into the industry early enough and there is a myriad of opportunities to be grasped and who knows where these might lead.

West Lothian College recently held a Construction industry ‘taster’ event which was delivered in partnership with the CITB and Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) West Lothian Regional Group, where the aims were to both raise awareness of the roles available in the industry, and to give pupils the chance to take part in ‘hands-on’, practical tasks.

If the perception of the construction industry by pupils drawn from several West Lothian Schools – West Calder High, Bathgate Academy, St Kentigern’s Academy, St Margaret’s Academy and Inveralmond Community High School – was originally of ‘mud, grit, grime, diggers and cranes’, their beliefs were soon to change.

They left the event with a re-invigorated and enthusiastic, positive mind-set that the construction industry offers a multitude of interesting opportunities that they can take advantage of when they make the transition from the classroom to the workplace.

And the reason this happened was very simple.

The construction industry ‘taster’ event allowed West Lothian College and DYW to engage the services of representatives from several construction firms, including Maxi Construction Ltd and Crannog Construction Ltd. Together with the expertise of Sarah Forbes, CITB advisor, on hand, the pupils engaged with a full spectrum of skilled staff, from college lecturers to current apprentices to local construction companies, all available to give a complete overview of opportunities the pupils may wish to consider.

But this was more than a ‘talking shop’. There were several interactive sessions too, where the pupils took part in sessions learning about monoblock skills, plumbing, virtual reality, joinery and engineering.

The idea was to give the pupils a chance to try their hand at the various trades to see what sparked their interest.

The college offers the courses which will provide the pupils with a gateway to a fulfilling career in the construction industry. Successfully applying for a place on these courses could be the next step for these pupils. Of course, there is a quest for construction companies across the country to promote Modern Apprenticeships too, which allows young people to develop their trade skills and attend college to consolidate their learning journey.

This event was therefore a great chance for these pupils to interact with current construction apprentices within West Lothian College, and to experience the college environment for themselves.

As Sarah Forbes, advisor at CITB said, “Construction taster events are an excellent way of highlighting the varied career options available to young people considering a career in construction. Recent CITB research shows that over 10,000 new workers are needed in the Scottish construction industry over the next five years. The industry needs to continue to work hard to inspire people to join it.

“I hope that by seeing a small snippet of the industry in action, young people from West Lothian and across the rest of the country will be inspired to consider a Modern Apprenticeship in construction, to help build the homes and infrastructure of the future.”

The construction industry – like so many others – is taking a long hard look at its future workforce and working out ways in which it can bridge the talent gap. Whilst traditional trades are still the backbone of the industry, there has to be more time looking at how rapid changes in technology will impact on its future.

Schools will continue to adjust their curriculum to look at areas such as 3D modelling, robotics and artificial intelligence. Moreover, terms like Industrie 4.0 and Factories of the Future are regularly associated with construction and engineering which might lead to a re-think in how the construction industry plays out over the next few years.

Is it fair to say that young people might be better placed to adapt to these technologies more easily than the more experienced workforce?

Today’s school leavers can spearhead the industry’s future. The construction industry will evolve to harness new innovation strategies, and events like this are a great way for employers to look at the future landscape of their business, to attract their next generation workforce and to spot the potential of prospective employees which will take it well into the future.