Comment: Young minds can open up through the site doors

Addressing the skills shortage remains a key priority right across the construction ­industry.

At these exclusive visits, the delight on the faces of young people is clear to see, says McQuade. Picture: contributed.

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 still suffers from an image problem. So how do we open the minds of young people to highlight the endless opportunities that this exciting sector can offer?

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

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Our industry is full of talented ­people – we simply need a lot more of them.The reality of working in construction 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 the incredibly 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. A site visit can start to focus thoughts on which roles they want to do, or which ­company they would like to work with.

Even after working in this industry for more than 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 that will have a 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, from Ayrshire to Alness. 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 per cent 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 more than 10,000 Scottish school pupils.

We are also inspiring generation Z (11–15 year olds) to consider a role in 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 plaques also provide information on career pathways into construction. Aberdeen Music Hall is currently 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.

Brian McQuade is managing director for Kier Regional Building Scotland.