The opportunity of a lifetime to rebase skills has commenced

The built environment. From constructing to landlord and beyond. They are responsible for where we live, work, play and learn. But is it an industry that people actually want to be part of? In a world where social responsibility is driving a lot of decisions and a strong focus on sustainability it is time to demonstrate to a younger generation why it is an important industry to be part of. The ongoing shortage of bricklayers, masons, welders and more impacts every company working to shape the built environment. 

We live in a world where most generations, but certainly Generation Z and Millennials look for way more than just the paycheck. They have grown up with a number of the challenges faced in society so have a clear understanding of the need for diversity and inclusion throughout a business. It’s not just about the “E” but also the S & G. Many corporates, and particularly those in the built environment talk about values and purpose but having walk rather than just talk is key as potential talent assesses a business based on their social responsibility. Their actions on climate change. The policies they live and breathe by. 

The ultimate challenge is how does the industry attract, develop and ultimately retain a talented workforce. This is the question almost all businesses ask themselves, not just the construction industry, but with the skills challenge above the need to retain is greater than ever. But is the sector luring people like it once did? 

So what happened to get the industry into this situation? For a number of years there has been a growing issue. An aging workforce retiring with no appeal for the younger generation to take up the roles in the sector, particularly females. Now to give credit there has been some progress and the built environment is moving in the right direction but there is so much to do still. There is a growing number of vacancies in the sector which has the potential to increase significantly if something isn’t done soon. That aging workforce is, well, still aging and a pandemic and Brexit haven’t really helped either. 

In 2016 (yes five years ago) Mark Farmer authored “Modernise or Die”. Innovation was needed (and still is needed) in the sector. There have been some inroads but areas like MMC and other technology uses are making slow progress. They do help in addressing the skills gap as they tap into pools of talent that ordinarily wouldn’t consider the sector. There is alongside this a need for upskilling the existing workforce – upskilling for a new digital age. 

So where do you start? How do you attract people to the industry? It’s not just about reward (but that certainly helps) but creating something to make people want to join. Some of the key areas that people look for in a role are evolving. The built environment certainly has a brand issue at the moment yet many have tried to address this, and seemingly failed but do people outside of the industry actually understand the roles and opportunities within the industry? 

Some qualities in a role now: job security (we live in uncertain times), an organisations ethical and social impact, broader support and benefits on top of remuneration. A recent pandemic has made a lot of people realise there is more to life than just money and having a role with flexibility that allows you to focus on your mental and physical health are key. The perception of construction and the built environment is a “dirty hands on” role and a role dominated by men.

So how does the industry get across the breadth of roles within the sector? With the rise of innovation and technology as well the range of roles both on and offsite are growing. The sector is behind where we live, work, play and learn. How rewarding would a role creating future spaces be? Particularly with a renewed focus on delivering sustainable spaces. If you look at the younger generation, there is a need to think about how the industry targets this group of people who have grown up in a digital world. A digital world probably lends itself to new recruitment techniques as well. Do we need the covering letter and CV in the same format anymore? At PwC for some roles we get people to record a video of themselves – why are they interested in the roles, what qualities they will bring etc. 

The package then needs consideration – thinking broader than remuneration package with other rewards, discounts and benefits systems. At PwC we have GEMs. Small tokens of appreciation for individuals which can then be used by people towards purchases. A fair and inclusive bonus package, So think total compensation available. What flexibility do you offer in terms of hours – whether full or part time. 

In the modern world, employees have a new mindset. They are happy to switch employers (and maybe even careers) if they see the benefit in doing so. For built environment not only does it need to attract people but more key is to retain them. Specialist skills, while still there, have been replaced by transferable skills – breaking down a barrier to moving. So away from remuneration, think about career development. How can an organisation invest in the development of their teams – the sector isn’t going anywhere so if you can position the journey of their career it will help focus the mind. Providing mentors (internal or external) and allowing time to train and develop. For four years I have had two hours a week (sometimes more) where I focus on ME. My development. Whether a course, some reading or simply writing down reflections. 

So in a modern world how to attract and retain individuals can be broken down to ensuring your organisation has a clear purpose that is not just talk but clear actions ingrained in the business. Climate change is one but this is ever evolving so keep a focus on it. And above all promote and shift the dialogue on the sector. It’s not all white males doing manual labour. The breadth of roles and experiences should be able to attract a diverse range of people. Embrace digital. This will require a change in mindset, training & development plans internally to keep up with the changing times. And not forgetting that they still want to be well paid and receive broad benefits. So just a few things to think about.

So there is a lot an organisation can do as it looks for talent. Not everything will work for everyone but now is the time. There has never been a better opportunity for positive change in the built environment. 

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