Engaging the next generation of civil engineers – New Civil Engineer

20 Sep, 2022 By Chris Collins
I’m sure I was not alone in my concern when, earlier this year, it was announced that the number of vacancies in construction has surpassed the 40,000 mark. However, even with a set of distinctly unusual events at play, I think we have come to, or are drawing nearer, a point from which a recruitment recovery can start. Indeed, the green shoots are starting to emerge, particularly for the civils community.

Chris Collins is civils team leader at Perega
Only last month, NBS released its Young People in Construction survey. This research not only indicated that over 50% of the 2,000 18-29 year olds polled saw construction as an attractive career path, but that engineering proved the second most popular profession after healthcare, beating even legal and financial. To me this represents a massive leap forward from a mere eight years ago where a similar 2014 YouGov poll found almost 70% would never even consider a career in construction.
This more positive perception didn’t happen overnight and there’s been plenty of hard work behind the scenes to champion the sector’s virtue, and revive a homegrown base of professionals, seemingly reduced by access to skilled labour from abroad.
A number of initiatives, long-running and more recent, have been instrumental in driving up the sector’s reputation. Future Made, launched in 2020, is one such scheme. Essentially it’s engaging with future generations through social media, using engaging influencers to showcase sector professions and encourage youngsters to give them a go. So far it’s reached 70% of 14-18 year olds in the UK with healthy audience engagement, warming up this previously untapped demographic for a career in construction.
Charities such as the Construction Youth Trust have been around for longer, but its work has been no less important in driving up enthusiasm amongst the younger generation. Particularly, it has encouraged a far more diverse workforce, broadening construction and civils appeal to a wider community, helping to reach across race, gender, creed, sexuality and ability. It’s helped to engage with more marginalised groups showing them the sector is an inclusive and accessible one.
Looking more specifically at civil engineering, the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) is encouraging current practitioners to become ICE STEM Ambassadors. Part of a campaign to mitigate the predicted 700,000 retirees from the professions over the next decade, this initiative is getting the engineer directly in front of prospects. Whether this is through workshops and career fairs attendance or working with parents and teachers to raise awareness about the prestige of this career path, more civil engineers are engaging with younger generations than ever before.
It’s something we’ve witnessed first-hand at Perega where we’ve engaged extensively with the local education network to attract and inspire the engineers of the future. And it’s not just at the highest level, we’ve encouraged engineers at every level of the business to participate. Crucially, this holistic approach makes the process more relatable, not only showing prospective, ambitious and impressionable candidates where they can go, but also how to get there; its mapping out a clear route to success.
As you can see, there’s plenty of cross-industry activity underway to appeal to those starting to appreciate the potential worth of a construction and engineering career. But there’s still more to be done.
While the immediate economic picture looks bleak, the longer term outlook is a positive one. For example, Glenigan’s latest Construction Forecast predicts an output resurgence in the latter half of next year and, with a host of major infrastructure projects on the horizon, there will be a huge demand for civil engineers and other construction roles. However, 40,000 is still a large number to fill over the next two years and our efforts need to ramp up if we’re going to close the current.
One simple but effective way we could do this is to champion skills based learning, equivalent to NVQs and A-Levels such as the previously politically-maligned Youth Training Schemes. This needs to be complemented by further endorsement and encouragement of apprenticeships, which offer the requisite academic training and much needed real world experience.
Another, more ambitious, but no less achievable long-term approach is to systemically raise the profile of civil engineering from grassroots through adolescence (and beyond) with the overall outcome of promoting civil engineering, and the built environment as a whole. Media, whether traditional or social will have considerable impact and prove a necessary tool for communication and showcasing the endless possibilities of a career in civil engineering. This is not forgetting that personal interaction through private enterprise and more importantly, overseeing institutes, is also crucial.
That’s just scratching the surface. Ultimately, if we pick up the pace now we can ensure that most, if not all, these vacant roles, particularly in the civils community, are occupied by a home-grown, next generation of professionals sooner than later. From the highest policy levels to individual firms and practices themselves, we have a golden opportunity to secure the profession’s legacy. So let’s seize it now, whilst the appetite is there.
*Chris Collins is civils team leader at Perega
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