In the latest of our forums in conjunction with the West Midlands Centre for Construction Excellence, we ask industry experts what can be done to attract new blood to the sector.

Rachael Hobbis, a solicitor at Shakespeare Putnam and co-founder of Birmingham Young Construction Professionals

The economic downturn offers real opportunities to attract young talented people into the industry ready for the forecasted recovery of the market in 2011.

With unemployment continuing to rise and Government cuts reducing the number of people entering higher education, today’s school leavers and unemployed may well be the skilled tradesmen and industry leaders of the future. Apprenticeships offer a good alternative to further education, and this type of ‘on the job training’ may provide alternative opportunities to some who would have usually gone to university. The current market also holds opportunity to entice professionals who are casualties of the recession to work or re-train in the construction industry.

Educating careers advisors, students and those considering new diverse roles is key. Our industry offers a range of employment from brick-laying and plumbing, surveying and architecture to property development and marketing. It is our job to raise awareness of an industry which is crucial to the economy and is truly passionate about what it does.

Young people should be recognised, encouraged and supported to inject new blood into construction and become future leaders, in turn passing their knowledge to generations to come.

Dr Peter T. Rayson, of the Faculty of Technology, Engineering and the Environment, Birmingham City University

Attracting the attention of young people has changed.

People do not choose careers on the basis of advice given by careers officers anymore; nor do they necessarily seek, or take, advice from the parents and family.

Research shows that young people choose their careers on the basis of their perception of the lifestyle they will have if they choose a particular job.

Where do they get this perception? Primarily from the media and their peers.

Until recently, there were few messages coming from the media about construction.

The few messages there were tended to reinforce that fact that construction is viewed as dirty, dangerous and insecure.

But programmes like Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location have presented a better and more accurate picture that shows that this sector contributes enormously to the quality of our lives.

This in turn has resulted in a resurgence in the number of students enrolling to study construction-related courses.

Economic downturn aside, the supply of new recruits looks healthier than at any time in the last 10 years, but more could be done in schools.

The development of the new diploma in Construction and the Built Environment is an important step in bringing construction into mainstream secondary education.

Exposure to the industry at an earlier age will allow young people to see the value of a career in construction and some will choose it.

However, the schools need the help and support of the sector to ensure that the experience is exciting and realistic.

If all they see is the dirt, they will not be convinced.

Steve Underwood, strategic development and business improvement director at construction firm Kier Group

I attended the 2010 RICS dinner at the Birmingham Metropol, a quick check down the guest list revealed the same names from 2000 and, I suspect the same as 1990.

Construction tends to be a closed community with people merely changing organisations within it, hence the leadership is often time qualified.

It is rare to see top talent enter the industry from other fields apart from a few well-chosen non-execs on Plc boards.

So what’s stopping new blood? A complex industry, a poor public facing image, cut throat competition, high risks and scant reward.

From the inside however construction provides enough technical, logistic, management and service challenges to satisfy the appetite of any individual. What is needed is the ability to articulate those challenges to the wider market.

Lessons may be drawn from the recent MoD campaign in recruiting from a wider audience and showing the diverse and stimulating nature of military careers. The UK is now suffering from an economic crisis where wealth was accumulated on paper.

I say follow the Chinese example: recognise the benefits of investment in the built environment, raise the profile, appeal and value of the industry and attract the best talent.

Julie Robson, deputy regional director of the skills body the Learning and Skills Council in the West Midlands

The construction industry in the West Midlands faces a serious future skills shortfall, due to the ageing profile of its workforce.

More than a third of the current workforce are aged 50 years and over. Coupled with the increase in the number of employees reaching retirement age in the next five years, the sector will experience critical skills shortages, unless it takes action to address these issues.

As the industry emerges from recession the numbers employed sector wide, across the West Midlands, are predicted to grow to 173,100 individuals by 2010 rising to 182,680 individuals by 2014.

This increased demand for skilled staff will further compound the issues of replacement demand already highlighted. Together this means an annual increase in recruitment demand of an additional 4,060 skilled employees. It is therefore vital that new recruits are placed in the industry at both craft and professional level. By recruiting more apprentices employers can secure the future skills base of their workforce.

There is no better time than now to recruit apprentices as funding is available. The National Apprenticeship Service is there to meet employer needs.

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