Open the doors to your site and show young people what they can do
On a good day, when the sun is shining, it’s hard to think of a better advert for construction than our project sites.
Whether it’s the skeleton of a new skyscraper rising out of the ground, or a huge excavation for a basement, there’s something about the scale, complexity and action of a building site that inspires certain people.
There’s a real joy in watching a new building rise out of the ground, particularly one you’ve worked on. It’s a physical product of your labour – something real, rather than abstract, that you’ve helped to bring to life.
Once you’ve got the bug it never leaves you. I walk around London today and I still get nostalgic pointing out the projects that I’ve had a hand in – and I can still remember the early buildings I helped to build as an apprentice all those years ago.
For young people, a site visit can be a transformative step on a journey that ends with them working in our sector. It can help open their eyes to the huge range of jobs available to them – from BIM manager to quantity surveyor to architect – in the built environment sector.
As a sector, we struggle with our image and understandably many young people don’t automatically think of construction as a possible future career destination. Site visits can be instrumental in changing that and helping to visualise a future in construction.
This is particularly true for those demographics that think they aren’t particularly well represented in the construction sector. A site visit can show people that there is a place for them in our world and that we value their experience and ideas.
For those further along the journey into the sector – maybe those on a college course or beginning an apprenticeship – a site visit can be the beginning of understanding what roles they may want, or identifying a particular company they would like to work with.
That’s why Build UK’s Open Doors is so important. Every year, hundreds of sites across the country throw open their gates and invite young people and others to tour around their project.
For this year’s first Open Doors event, I personally hosted a visit from construction apprentices and others last week at Hanover Square, a project that Mace is delivering on behalf of Great Portland Estates. It’s fantastic to see young people’s eyes widen as they get to see the complexities and exciting reality of delivering new buildings.
Each year the event has gone from strength to strength. Between 18 and 23 March, more than 280 construction sites across the UK – more than ever before – threw open their doors, welcoming in thousands of members of the public.
This year, locations taking part in Open Doors include Mace’s own Battersea Power Station project, the BIM Cave – a fully immersed 3D modelling environment – at Willmott Dixon’s Birmingham office, Kier’s Great Ormond Street hospital site and Balfour Beatty’s Regional Performance Centre for Sports site in Dundee.
Alongside visits to schools and funding apprenticeship and graduate placements, it’s one of the core ways in which we can ensure that there is a pipeline of young people moving into the construction sector.
This is particularly important with Brexit just over the horizon. Whatever your political views, the undeniable reality is that it will be more vital than ever for the construction sector to be able to draw on as wide a pool as possible of potential young recruits from the UK.
Our current challenges around skills availability risk becoming significantly more acute in the wake of Brexit, with a seriously detrimental impact on our capacity to deliver the housing and infrastructure that we need.
We need the young people who will be touring our sites to want to come back – and we need them to see the huge range of possibilities available and that this is a place where they can make a real impact on the world.
There are a number of very grand strategies in place to help us achieve that, and I would encourage everyone to work with Build UK and other organisations to help deliver them.
Beyond that, however, the simplest thing you can do is to open up the doors to your site and try to explain to people why you’ve got the best job in the world. Whether that’s for Open Doors, or a trip for a local school, you’ll be making a real mark on the next generation to join our industry.