How did you choose your career? Were you helped by a wise career counsellor at school?
If you were, I’d like to know, because over the years I’ve encountered many people who would firmly declare the opposite. One, a successful and widely celebrated car designer, told me he was advised in school career sessions to stop wasting his time doodling and focus on becoming an accountant. Fortunately for him, he ignored that particular steer.
I can’t say the same for myself. Aged about 14, I was dissuaded from the notion of studying architecture with such force that I am not, to this day, an architect.
Of course, it may be that career guidance as a profession has improved immeasurably over the decades since my designer friend and I were given such dispiriting advice. But even if today’s counsellors are as wise as Yoda and as well-briefed as Wikipedia, they are evidently not guiding many young people towards a career in construction.
According to research published in April by consultants Stace, fully 65 per cent of young people aged 16 to 18 aspire to a career in medicine, law, finance, IT, or a related discipline. Careers in construction and the built environment are the first choice of only about 7 per cent of young people, barely outperforming the likes of catering, manufacturing, or a life in politics.
We cannot lay all the blame for this outcome at the door of career counsellors, I concede. When asked who influences their vocational thinking, teenagers point to parents and their own prematurely made-up minds ahead of teachers and careers advisors, and ahead of friends and social media as well, surprisingly.
In other words, the main barriers to thinking about a career in construction arise among those people who probably know nothing about it – parents and young people themselves.
But young people, or at least most of them, are not stupid. Around two-thirds say they would welcome more information to help guide their career choices. And roughly nine out of 10 say direct work experience is the best way to properly understand a potential career.
The responsibility for our industry is clear. If we continue to leave career guidance to parents, teachers, career counsellors and the half-formed opinions of teenagers themselves, we can expect young people to continue to turn away from our sector in droves. Ongoing skills shortages and talent gaps will naturally spring from that result.
The alternative is for construction firms to take the matter seriously, to reach out to schools and colleges, to set up collaborations, and to help young people learn what construction is all about for themselves.
Our skills special report this Thursday will take an in-depth look at the misconceptions that persist around careers in construction and what can be done to dispel them.
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