Is school engagement for future talent in your "Too Hard Pile"

Is school engagement for future talent in your "Too Hard Pile"

Maybe you define your tasks (the things you need to do for your work or at home) clearly, precisely and then schedule time to complete them? Maybe you can organise your life to get through your tasks without hesitation or procrastination? If this is you, I am impressed. That is not me! And I suspect it may be pretty unusual!

I try of course, but there are some things that I just hate doing. I put off things like my tax return, always filed as the clock ticks towards the final deadline, despite the fact I have had pretty much 10 months to do it. Then there is filling out my expenses and that even pays me money! I keep in my head, on my laptop or sometimes in the back of a notebook my “Too Hard Pile”. I think I’ll keep the specific contents of that list to myself if you don’t mind… not sure who will see this… but be sure the Too Hard Pile is there!

In my work with people, at every level, in the Built Environment, I am certain that there are others with pretty hefty “Too Hard Piles” out there too. For me this is a fundamental challenge for the sector; everyone is so much on the hook to deliver with probably not quite enough time, budget or resources. So stepping back to work out how to do things better, or tackle the Too Hard Pile is just not an option. I do however think there is a solution; I wouldn’t waste your time otherwise!

Frustratingly for me much of the improvement I want to see, that will, I believe, transform the sector is on the sectors’ Too Hard List. For example, making known the tremendous, rewarding and exciting career opportunities that exist in a sector currently looking for over 250,000 new recruits to literally make our world a better place.

I have spoken with people from most of the largest 20 companies in the sector, many smaller ones, all the professional bodies and trade associations as well as the largest development projects, and even some suppliers to the sector. The good news is that pretty much everyone agrees it is important to raise the profile of the sector with the next generation, and that more needs to be done. The sad news is that for most the tasks are either on the Too Hard Pile, or worse, they have been transferred to someone else’s Too Hard Pile. Drilling in to what is actually going on when it comes to promoting the sector they fall broadly into 2 groups:

  • “We think it is very important to work with young people as early as possible to encourage them to think about Construction as a good career and we work with XXX junior schools”.
    Translationit is easy to get into junior schools, the children don’t answer back and they get excited by traditional construction activities. Tick in the S106 box.
  • “It is vital that young people consider careers in the Construction Industry we support outreach in XXX secondary schools and colleges”
    Translationit is really hard to engage with schools! They don’t respond, don’t understand us, change their minds and dates for visits at short notice and we are worried that our staff are exposed to difficult situations, so we have used our S106 budgets to take on consultants who do the work for us.

I think all of those points have truth in them and the consequence is yes, you guessed it meaningful schools engagement is on the Too Hard Pile. Trouble is as a sector we can’t afford not to address the next generation of recruits. By the way, I have never seen the XXX number of schools exceed 100, which means addressing a nifty 2.4% of the 4178 secondary schools in the UK. So if that is what your professional body proud to be delivering, you can decide if that is good enough? If you really want to challenge the impact, find out how many of those schools are NOT in London or next to HS2? Typically awareness raising is done within a stone’s throw of a major project; no projects, no visibility!

So what is the solution?

To get the issue of recruiting the next generation off the Too Hard Pile requires 2 changes in my mind. While not complicated, to make these changes does require action, which is hard to find the time for.

  1. It is no-ones fault… It is everyone’s responsibility

If you work in the sector, then hopefully, like me, you think it is a good place to welcome others to join. For example, as a marketing manager for one of the house builders you possess significantly more knowledge about the whole Built Environment than a 15 year old studying for GCSEs. You have a good understanding of what Architects, Project Managers, a Quantity Surveyor or a plasterer does and how they play an important part of building homes for our communities. You should surely therefore seize every opportunity to go to careers fairs at your local schools or get a colleague to do so. If you are an employer consider allowing your staff time to actively engage with students, maybe even reward them for doing so.

  1. Don’t re-invent or outsource
    There are numerous free resources available to help engage with schools, including our own My Environment My Future (careers) and some brilliant facilitated workshops costing several thousand pounds to deliver. Yes it is extremely hard and time consuming to engage with schools; teachers are overloaded by the process of education and suspicious of anything they are offered for free. Most are however committed to doing the best for their students and will appreciate something useful. Schools and teachers respond best to a personal contact, so once you have established a contact or relationship, build on it, don’t let it fade away as a project comes to an end or a teacher moves on.

MEMF is free for schools to use. It does not require any extra activity for teachers outside the classroom. MEMF provides resources to teach core modules of the GCSE and A-Level Geography, while also introducing careers in the Built Environment. It does not need support from someone from the sector, but going in to the classroom as part of the programme, or helping student prepare their entry into the optional national competition, will have a significant impact. The best thing about MEMF is that once teachers see it they can use the materials year after year, however it works best for them, long after a construction project completes, while also opening up the opportunity presented by careers in the built environment.

So maybe schools engagement doesn’t deserve that place on the Too Hard Pile after all? Maybe it still seems too hard? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you if you still don’t think creating a pipeline of new recruits for the sector is worth your while?

About the author

Terry Watts is CEO of CSTT and also works with MEMF (My environment, My future) a charity set up in the 1980s to help individuals overcome the barriers to pursuing a career in surveying. Working with colleges and schools to inform, encourage and facilitate individuals from all backgrounds to enter the built environment with career programmes working with employers through the wider industry.

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