SME constructors are ready made role models

How can we tackle the construction skills crisis if we don’t recognise and enable our industry role models?

During the “Building the Next Generation: skills, diversity and the built environment” event – hosted by The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – Helen Hayes MP called on construction to draw talent from local communities. She argued that a workforce drawn from communities that are at the sharp end of the planning and development “can only be a benefit”.

The member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood also said that, unless builders are taking that message out to schools, “you have lost that opportunity.”

Other panel members, including Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Claire Handby, and Marion Ellis, agreed that role models and mentors were important to the industry facilitating change, particularly in encouraging more women and BAME community members into construction.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) agrees with the panel members’ assessment of the industry and recommends working more closely with SMEs and regional contractors to make these opportunities a reality.

The NFB has been working closely with schools over the last 15 years to consolidate awareness of the construction industry and to educate young people, through its Stay Safe campaign – promoting the dangers of construction sites. Other organisations have followed suit with similar campaigns.

As well as attending jobs and careers fairs, the NFB offers its members access to teaching resources such as staff, virtual reality (VR) goggles and lesson plans.

The NFB’s immediate past national chair, Clare Watson, is a governor at her local school and regularly speaks to the students. However, construction companies and trade associations often find it difficult to get into schools unless there is a direct link with staff. A duty to meet corporate social responsibility has helped, but schools remain wary about promoting construction over more traditional academic routes.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said:

“Many schools and decision-makers struggle to promote construction as a career, despite it being the most diverse vocation. Schools and politicians must move away from academic education being the default route for a successful career. It’s not.”

“SMEs train and retain 66% of construction apprentices, are the predominant rural employer and operate within 15 miles of their head offices, but they build less than a third of new homes. How can we tackle the construction skills crisis if we don’t recognise and enable our industry role models?”