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about 1 month ago by Daniel Keen

Why does construction have such a bad reputation amongst teenagers?

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Only 7% of teenagers want to join the construction industry, as reported this morning in the construction news. Reading this article motivated to write a long post on LinkedIn about why I think this is. After posting, I decided to put some more thoughts down and make it into a blog. 

So why do so few teenagers want to join the construction industry?

In my opinion, it is because schools promote the construction industry as a negative career choice. When I was at school, many years ago now, in year 10 and 11 it was all about going to college, then to University. School's often promote how many of their students go to college or University. This results in them not encouraging students to take other paths.

In those same years, my school also removed the "naughty kids" and those unlikely to get good GCSE's from the classroom. They did their basic GCSE's (English, Maths, Science) in their own classroom, and then for the rest of the time, they went to the local college to take a course in bricklaying, plumbing, painting, etc. This creates a negative image of the construction industry from the age of 14; that it is an industry for the less educated, an industry for the naughty kids.

So many teenagers go to University these days. In 2016–17, there were 2.32 million students studying at UK higher education institutions. Many of these do a degree that does not lead naturally into a job. Many go to University for the "experience" or because all of their friends are going and therefore end up doing degrees that have no work relevance. This results in a lot of people in their early 20's with huge debt and little work experience entering the job market at the same time of year. There are not enough graduate jobs to go round, and many end up in jobs that they probably could have got without the degree and without the debt!

Sending a high number of teenagers to University has become a vanity project for successive Governments. They should have focussed more on preparing teenagers for their working life and spend more time promoting the non-University options, such as the construction industry.

Prior to working in construction recruitment, I had no idea about construction. About the opportunities - both blue and white collar. On the blue-collar side, if you were to leave school at 16 and enrol in a plumbing course, you could be earning £40-50,00 a year by your mid 20s. How many degrees lead to this salary?

Becoming a painter, plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc also opens you up to the world of self-employment. A friend of mine left school at 16 with his basic qualifications. After 10 years working as a domestic plumber for a major new building housing contractor and being on their emergency call out roster, he decided to go it alone. Barely into his 30s and he is working for himself, earning far in excess of the national average. Why are schools not promoting the construction industry as a positive, lucrative career path?

The white collar side is equally undersold; there is currently a shortage of Quantity Surveyors in the UK, there has been for about five years. The average salary for a Quantity Surveyor according to Indeed is £50,000 a year for someone with five years experience and relevant industry related qualification; Degree or HNC/HND in Quantity Surveying. You can add an extra £20,000 to that for a Senior Quantity Surveyor. Then you have estimator roles, contracts managers, project managers, planners and more. so many opportunities. So many unfilled job vacancies!

The construction industry currently has a huge skills shortage in both blue and white collar. Teenagers need to be educated in schools that the construction industry is a lucrative, solid career - and not just an option for the naughty kids or those who are unlikely to get good GCSE's.

With the knowledge I now have of the industry, I wish I could go back and tell a 16-year-old me about the construction industry. Instead of going to University to study Law, I would have done a construction related degree, or even got a trade.

In a few months time, we will have GCSE and A Level results announced. Schools and colleges will once more promote how many A*s they get (or whatever the grading is now!), how many of their students went to college, went to University. What they will not do is promote how many of their students left college, didn't go to University and are earning £50,000 a year by the time they were 25. Maybe if schools and colleges were ranked on how successful their alumni were, based on the average salary they earn by the time they are 30-years-old, then maybe they will begin promoting the construction industry as a positive one to get into.

Until schools and colleges change the perception of the construction industry and start promoting it as a positive, lucrative career choice, teenagers will continue seeing it as a negative industry, a negative career choice.

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