Are we doing all that we can to get children to consider a career in the industry after school?

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

As an industry we’ve struggled to appeal to the younger generation and increase the number of children considering construction as a career when they leave school. We have been working to challenge perceptions that the industry is a male dominated, old fashioned, dirty industry, which is a good place to start.

Over Christmas, the LEGO Movie was released in cinemas which featured a construction worker as the main character who is guided by a diverse band of ‘master builders’ that literally use their construction skills to build their way past every challenge. The film was so popular, grossing half a billion worldwide and LEGO struggled to keep up with demand for its toys after the film’s release. Great news for film makers and a positive step getting children to put down tablets and pick up building blocks (like the good old days!) but is it enough to get them to want to work in the industry? Sadly, I think not.

For years we’ve had the likes of Bob the Builder, Minecraft and the first LEGO Movie showcasing our industry but that still doesn’t seem to be working. Even newer TV shows are trying but they still aren’t getting it quite right. Paw Patrol, a very popular children’s cartoon about a group of rescue dogs who work together to protect the community. Each dog has a different job ranging from a fireman and paramedic to recycling and Rubble is the construction dog. While it’s great he’s flying the flag for the industry, he’s also male and an English Bulldog, one of the most muscular breeds, which certainly isn’t a requirement to work in the industry.

Whatever makes children swap building blocks for bricks and mortar in the future is going to be more than a popular film at the cinema. We all watched Mary Poppins as well but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to start hiring magical nannies, as nice as that would be. We need to crack our marketing and work on our public perception, with people of all ages, not just children. The image people have in their head is not a true representation of how the industry is today. We’ve come a long way in terms of technology and skills, and the general public just aren’t aware of the reality of construction today. We need to get better at communicating the jobs available, informing parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the industry; it’s certainly not just hard hats and muddy boots anymore. If we give them a true representation of what they can expect, and what the industry is like, then we’ve done all we can and it’s down to them to decide if construction is right for them.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.