To meet growth forecasts for the industry, the CITB predicts an additional 44,600 new workers need to be found each year until 2019, just to keep up with demand. 75% of core construction job titles have been identified by the UK Government as “skill-short” so there is consensus around the need to attract new people to the industry.
The challenge for the industry is that according to a recent UKCES survey only 5% of teenagers are interested in working in the construction industry and the proportion of workers aged under 24 has dropped from 12% to 8% in the last 3 years.
Millennials are often unfairly saddled with the dubious reputation for being entitled, disloyal, self-centred or optimistic go-getters. The term “Snowflake” has been appropriated to mean a young man or woman who melts away at the first sign of trouble – someone who dissolves into a puddle when the going gets tough.
This perceived weakness looks like a poor fit with the demands of an industry requiring hard work and manual labour as a matter of course. But statistics show young people play sports and are members of gyms in larger numbers than previous generations. The pressure on getting good grades at 16 and 18 is higher than ever so this isn’t a generation that is work shy or frightened of physical labour.
This misperception of millennials is being fed by divisive tabloid opinion pieces and the inevitable mistrust of change from older workers. People have always looked upon youth with at least some sense of bewilderment and rolling of eyes. As already stated, the construction industry needs these young people so the attitude needs to focus on what they can bring, not what they can’t do.
Millennials have new perspectives to share, new ideas about getting things done, and new ways of tackling problems.
This generation has grown up with technology, are quick to adopt new technologies and gravitate toward digital media. With technology becoming central to the way construction projects and designed and built, this generation will not only be quick to on-board, but they will also drive innovation in this area in the medium and long term. The industry can benefit and progress with the help of millennials.
For the industry to actively attract young workers it needs to showcase it’s achievements and look at some of the “softer” elements of employee relations to ensure a synergy with the expectations of this generation.
Achievements that will inspire need to be promoted. The recent BBC series on Cross Rail was an excellent example of promoting the incredible technical accomplishments that were undertaken. The danger is that all the talk around HS2 is around value for money, not the thousands of jobs that will be created and not on the kind of opportunity this will provide for the professionals involved.
With regard to employee relations, businesses need to align themselves with the aspirations of these younger workers. Millennials expect employers to be able to show opportunities for career advancement, support for education, and a collaborative culture. Many millennials have grown up with parents, teachers and other figures who were more like peers and role models than authoritarians. Modern virtual design and construction tools and integrated project delivery methods will all require higher levels of collaboration within and among project teams. Having these young people focused on a common purpose, effective processes, excellent communication, and solid relationships will help transform the industry over time.