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Monday, 31 October 2016

Millennials: spoiled brats or key to the success of the construction industry?

Everyone knows there is a skills shortage in the construction industry. There are reportedly 182,000 construction jobs that need to be filled by 2018 and currently no real plan to achieve this. I touched upon it in my last post because given the male to female ratio in the industry it would seem crazy not to try and fill it with bright, capable, hardworking women. However there is another labour source currently not being fully engaged; Millennials. So this post will look into why millennials are shunning construction in favour of pretty much any other industry.

Millennials get a pretty bad rap. Defined as those born between 1982 and 2004, they are branded lazy, entitled, narcissistic with no work ethic and who can't commit - to a job, to a relationship, not even to a diet fad! But is this really fair? In the U.K. (and a lot of the developed world) we are facing the issues of an ageing population. In the construction industry specifically this means that more people are retiring but there are not enough people to replace them. And here arises the current issue of The Skills Gap.

The skills gap is an issue in the construction industry because whilst the economy is in good shape and the construction projects are plentiful, more and more people train in the trades and in the construction professions. In an economic downturn the construction industry is one of the first to go with funding disappearing and projects being put on hold. Therefore people leave because there is not enough work and move to other industries, rarely coming back. Just look at the shortage of Bricklayers and Quantity Surveyors as an example. 

The issue is this, Millennials, the next generation of the UK workforce are simply not interested in the construction industry. They perceive it as slow, outdated and traditional which when compared to industries such as Tech, which are are fast paced, agile and innovative it is easy to understand why construction is rarely first choice.

So what can we do to attract millennials to the industry? 

1. Embrace new technology. There are so many technological advances that can bring construction into the present day and make working much more efficient allowing contractors to cut costs on projects. BIM and Drones are good examples. Millennials are technologically savvy and find it easy to adapt to new ways of working.

2. Show the potential a career in the industry has. Millennials are looking for opportunities to be successful in whatever they do. They are looking for career advancement and leadership opportunities. It is important to move away from the "time served" approach of so many older members of the industry and look at ability and track record when it comes to promotions and rewards.

3. Flexibility. A recent article by the FT reported that the culture of long hours fails to deliver. The outcome is that rigid working cultures that measure performance by the hour lead to fatigue. Flexibility in working and a move away from a culture of "face time" in the office is attractive. People recognise they have deliverables and that they are responsible for them. Flexibility in working hours doesn't mean people work less, but it leads to happier, more productive workers because they can work around other commitments like children or so that they can travel in less busy periods of the day. 

4. Make the earning potential obvious. Construction can pay well. Particularly with a shortage in skills and a larger demand for project personnel is pushing wages up. This is especially the case in rail where there is an even larger labour shortage, there is the potential for wages to increase. According to pay for massively in-demand rail workers and engineers building new lines and tunnels has soared by a staggering 74 per cent between 2012-2015. 

This group of young, bright and talented people could be the answer to filling the labour shortages and reducing the number of available construction jobs from 182,000. With unemployment amongst 18-24 year olds in the UK at a level where it is one of the highest in the developed world this could solve two major issues the UK is facing. Attracting Millennials could also be a way of bringing the construction industry into a new era, focusing on using the latest technology and efficient working moving the industry away from the old rhetoric of "this is how we've always done it".  

By attracting the brightest and smartest young minds to replace those leaving the industry, it could become the norm for construction projects meet the targets of being completed to time, quality and budget. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Wonder Woman: Does she help the female cause or is it down to those already in the Construction Industry?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought about Wonder Woman being appointed as the honorary ambassador for gender equality by the United Nations. I paused and asked, "as in the comic book FICTIONAL character?" To which she confirmed it was. My answer was, " I think it's stupid, why would you choose a made up character when there are so many more real women who are alive". My answer was reactive, and knowing she had more than likely given the question some real consideration, I asked her what she thought. She said, "to me it implies that gender equality is fictional if they appoint a fictional character". She continued to acknowledge that Winnie-the-Pooh had been appointed honorary ambassador for friendship and Tinkerbell the honorary ambassador of green but went on to say "this is different because its about gender equality, and by that I mean it's too important to be given to a character who cant speak, who HAS NO VOICE."

And there it is, a theme that can be applied to so many things these days.  Gender equality or lack thereof. Something that in 2016 seems so backwards, yet something that the UN is contributing to whether unintentionally or not.

A hot topic generally at the moment, gender inequality is all over the news and social media and is certainly a cause worth speaking out about. In our day to day lives we live it, and some more so than others. With this in mind, I've been looking at the UK construction industry - of which I am a part - and the enormous gender imbalance within the industry. 

Looking specifically at the UK construction industry, which according to the Office of National Statistics is made up of 11% women - 1% of which are "on the tools" in jobs such as carpentry and plumbing and the other 10% include support and professional roles. It doesn't seem to be progressing towards gender equality at a speed that should be expected in 2016. Organisations such as Women into Construction and the Construction Youth Trust are working towards getting more women and girls into the industry by working with Contractors, Consultants and other bodies in the industry but there seems to be a long way to go and an uphill struggle to persuade firms that women are equal to men when it comes to hiring for construction roles. 

It seems strange to me that when there is such a large skills shortage in the industry we are not tapping 50% of the population to fill this gap. Especially when it is proven that a mix of men and women make businesses more productive because of the different approaches and skills they bring to the table. 

As a female in the construction industry I understand it is not always the most appealing industry to work for from the outside. With research suggesting direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment are the norm along with the presence of a glass ceiling that male counterparts do not encounter, there is still a lot of work to do to level the playing field. As younger generations enter the construction industry and older generations leave, I certainly notice that attitudes are changing. My personal experience has been positive in the main but perhaps that's down to experience, my expectations and very importantly a thick skin and a sense of humour.

The industry is beginning to do more, and it appears to see the value in making the work environment a more hospitable place for female workers but this is a slow process. So whilst it is clear the industry needs more time to tackle the gender imbalance, it also needs to hurry up because for each day, month or year it delays, it is losing out on the brightest and best of female engineers and project managers to name a few, to other industries such as Tech and Finance. It's time now for construction employers and professional bodies to get into gear and make construction a more modern, fast paced and innovative industry that is open and attractive to women. Its time to demonstrate what a fantastic industry construction is to work in.