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Every so often, CIMCIG takes a look at the debate around the ‘Image of Construction’.  It’s a general theme around how UK Construction Plc can make itself more reputable, and a more attractive career destination for the cream of the countries young people. 

With a recent EC Harris report suggesting that even if between oiling our planning machinery, freeing up greenbelt, and incentivising housebuilders to build more we succeeded in delivering enough planning permissions to satisfy housing demand, there simply wouldn’t be enough people to build them.

This should be no surprise. The recent recession meant builders cut staff, and cut intake. Now as workloads recover, they are scrambling to recruit. It’s a cyclical and, while depressing, possibly unavoidable thing. 

Now we have the problem that young people don’t fancy bricklaying or plumbing, and the only way to get enough workers is to import 200,000 workers from Eastern Europe – not a strategy that would win the Government many friends on its own back benches. 

So why don’t young people like the look of construction? Despite many good news stories - delivering the Olympic facilities on time, Crossrail, a bevy of new London skyscrapers – our industry struggles to attract skilled labour.

Yes, there’s the ‘cowboy builder’ stereotype. Yes, construction can be perceived as dirty, and hard work. But not every 18-24 year old is a lazy shirking good for nothing.

Perhaps we consistently fail to communicate? 

We often focus on the complexity of the work, the engineering problems we meet and solve, the volume of bricks we make and lay. Very seldom do we focus on the outcome of our efforts. 

A new hospital means more people go home alive. A new school means more children get good qualifications. New homes mean new families can build new lives together. 

We seem scared to discuss work sometimes, fearful of public backlash. A recent set of roadworks outside my house caused immense traffic disruption over a three month period. Thousands of people were up in arms. If I hadn’t asked the gang what they were doing (laying trunking for superfast broadband cable) I wouldn’t have known. There were no signs on the vehicles, nothing on the ‘sorry we’re digging up the road’ signs, nothing anywhere. As it happens, I’m happy now I know what they were doing. They did a good, quick job and it will help me and thousands of others stream live video to our hearts content. If only they’d told the other people in the traffic jam.

If we were better at communicating the benefits of new roads, new railways or new homes, then we wouldn’t have so much trouble getting approval for them.  Why are we spending so much time talking about airport expansion, or wondering if HS2 is value for money? Because we cannot convince the general public that building more runways would mean better lives for all, and that HS2 will mean less cars on the M6. And more jobs in the North.  

All companies in construction can help here. Engage with the World. Tell people what you’re doing and why. Talk about how life in the UK will be improved by roads, railways, tunnels, houses and broadband cable. We need to win friends out there, not just to help us work now, but to make sure there are enough workers to build what we want to build.

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