Opening site doors can open young minds

Brian McQuade

By Brian McQuade, managing director for Kier Regional Building Scotland

ADDRESSING the skills shortage remains a key priority right across the construction industry. While the sector has become one that is incredibly diverse and significantly more professional and technical than is referred to anecdotally, the public face of construction is still suffering from an image problem.

So how do we open the minds of young people to highlight the endless opportunities that this exciting construction sector can offer?

One way that Kier, and other construction companies have recently done this, is by taking taking part in Open Doors Week – where members of the public got the unique opportunity of a ‘sneak peek’ behind a live construction site.

Our industry is full of talented people – we simply need a lot more of them.

The perception of working in construction compared to the reality is worlds apart and far removed from the poorly paid, male dominated and dirty sector that still springs to mind for many people. In fact, it offers endless opportunities for those interested in making a real impact on the landscape of tomorrow. But seeing really is believing.

That’s why site visits can be such a game changer for young people – opening their eyes and minds to theincredibly diverse job opportunities available, including architecture, engineering, project management, HR, finance, IT, trade skills, marketing and communication, with a huge variety of entry routes and an abundance of opportunities for career progression. For those currently studying at college or university or carrying out an apprenticeship, a site visit can start to focus thoughts on what roles they ultimately want to do, or what particular company they would like to work with.

Even after working within this industry for over 30 years, I still get a thrill from seeing construction projects coming out of the ground, whether this is one of our smaller schemes or a major project which will have significant positive impact on the immediate and larger community. At these exclusive behind the scenes visits the delight on the faces of young people is clear to see as they marvel at the sheer size, intricacy and accomplishment that comes from being involved in bringing a building to life.

For Kier, that recently included showing visitors how we are approaching the complex refurbishment of the Burrell Museum in Glasgow, to seeing what’s involved in building new super schools, spanning from Ayrshire to Alness in the Highlands.

Informing and shaping the views of young people from an early age to consider adding the construction industry to their careers wish list will help us to narrow the skills gap.

At Kier we are doing this in many ways. Our flagship ‘Shaping Your World’ initiative, where we pledged 1% of our workforce to act as Kier Career Ambassadors working with schools and colleges to engage with students, is making a lasting impression.In Scotland alone, we’ve invested nearly 1,000 hours in engaging with over 10,000 Scottish school pupils.

We are also inspiring generation Z (11–15 year olds) to consider a role within the built environment by using fun and engaging content, including the ability to create individual avatars with Virtual World Plaques at sites across the country. The interactive plaques also provide information on career pathways into construction.  Aberdeen Music Hall is currently topping our leader board as one of the most viewed projects and we look forward to unveiling the plaque for the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow when work shortly begins on site.

As an industry, we all have a responsibility to promote the valuable contribution of our sector and to implement new initiatives, like Open Doors, Shaping Your World, work placements and school visits to further engage and inform young people to consider a career in construction. The landscape of this sector has gone through a huge transformation over the years and it can offer a solid foundation to build a flourishing and highly rewarding career. We need to take every opportunity to open the eyes and minds of young people so they can reap the rewards too.