CONSTRUCTION SKILLS THE ROLE OF THE EDUCATIONAL SUPPLY CHAIN

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1 CONSTRUCTION SKILLS THE ROLE OF THE EDUCATIONAL SUPPLY CHAIN Dr Kate Carter, School of the Built Environment, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Abstract There is a need to recruit 36,400 white collar workers into the construction industry by the year 2010 (Construction Skills 2006). However, evidence shows that retention of graduates in the industry and application to built environment degrees are falling. The higher education sector has a significant role to play in responding to the predicted skills shortage for the construction sector. Not only in providing the graduates, but in motivating them to a career in construction. For a large number of school leavers, university is often the first step towards a career in the construction industry. If the education and experience gained while at university does not prepare our graduates for the industry then the higher education sector is failing in its response to industry requirements. This might be a factor in poor retention rates of professionals in the construction sector. This paper reports the first stage in a study on the retention of graduates in the construction sector. It draws on evidence from the Construction Skills Network and explores the perception of school leavers, and new graduates. This work aims to develop a set of factors that motivate or de-motivate individuals from a career in construction. Recognition of these factors will enable the industry to respond to the needs of it s would be professionals. Keywords: graduate retention; higher education; skills shortage.

2 1 Introduction The Centre for Education in the Built Environment (CEBE) has provided an educational development grant to investigate retention in the construction industry. This small research project will enable an undergraduate built environment student to complete a dissertation, but more importantly will expose some of the major issues facing school leavers, students and graduates contemplating a career in the construction industry. The Construction Skills Council has identified a shortfall in the number of professionally qualified people for the short and medium term demands of the construction industry. There is a need to increase the number of individuals starting a career in construction and to retain them within the construction industry once there. The Higher Education system plays a significant role in both attracting young school leavers to take built environment degrees, but also to prepare them for a career in the industry. Criticism from the industry is that many graduates are simply unprepared for the world of work and have little understanding of how the industry works in practice (Construction Skills 2006). This assessment of the higher education sector is damning and must be responded to. Coupled with this lack of confidence in graduates there is a general call to increase the quality of applicants to degree courses in the built environment and also an increase in the number of university places is to be encouraged to meet the demands of the industry. The higher education sector is central to any response to these fundamental concerns. Most school leavers embarking on a built environment degree have perceptions of the construction industry based on very little experience. The initiatives designed to encourage entrants are new and not fully available across the UK. The range of skills and subjects studied while doing a degree can vary markedly from institution to institution. This research project will look at the transformation of school leavers to graduates and examines the value-added that the higher education sector delivers in preparing individuals for a career in construction. This paper will establish the framework for the research.

3 2 Professional Skills Shortages in Construction A growing sector The construction industry is one of the largest in the UK, contributing to 8.2% of the GVA (Gross Value Added). Construction output is expected to rise by 12.7% by This has created a corresponding requirement for a 27% increase in the number of professionals in the construction industry forecast between (CITB 2004). A second, more detailed forecast predicts an average annual requirement of 10,530 managers and 9,280 Architects and Technical Engineers over the period (CITB 2006). These figures are based on detailed analysis of market trends and predictions of a continued upturn in the construction industry. The predicted increase in skilled professionals is not being met by the industry and with the number of students entering construction based degrees reducing over the last few years this trend is set to worsen. Respect for people agenda While national organisations have seemingly responded to the need to respect, recruit and retain through the Respect for People agenda, there has been slow response from the small organisations that make up the largest proportion of the construction industry. In a survey of young people entering the industry, the perception is that industry cannot meet their aspirations in terms of salary and working conditions (CITB 2002). The attraction of a career in construction has not filtered through to potential recruits and the reality of long hours and stressful and unsafe working environments is perhaps contributing to the failure of various initiatives to recruit adequate new entrants into built environment professions. Female and ethnic minorities The recognition that there is an inadequate pool of traditional entrants (white, male) into the construction industry to meet demand has resulted in concerted effort to attract women and people from ethnic minorities. These demographic groupings are currently represented by very small percentages within the industry. Only 3% of construction

4 professionals were women, and only 2.3% came from ethnic minorities (. Although the number of female students entering construction higher education has increased, there is not a complimentary increase in the female professional workforce (Powell et al. 2005). There is a continued call for an increase in female and ethnic minority professionals in the construction industry. Equality and diversity is a key performance indicator of the Respect for People toolkit. It is recognized that attracting people into the construction industry requires a broad philosophical shift. Zara Lamont of the Confederation of Construction Clients stated that construction didn t just need more women, it needed more good professional and skilled people. We will only get these by raising standards right across the industry. It s about making construction a career of choice for everyone, including women. Industry skills 80% of Scottish employers have encountered difficulty in recruiting skilled staff. Employers identified graduates, although trained and qualified for certain occupations still lacked a variety of skills required. The higher education system, while it provides the graduate with the right qualification is not always preparing them adequately for the workplace. The balance to be achieved between academic and skills development is a challenge to built environment academe. Criticism over the readiness of graduates is not taken lightly and is a catalyst for change in the education sector. 3 Higher Education Built Environment Courses Built Environment courses experienced a decline in the number of students enrolled over a number of years. Full time student numbers fell from 27,059 in 1996/97 to 21,600 in 2002/03 (HESA 2006). The overall downward trend in construction related degrees has been matched with a steady increase in students studying part time (Figure 1). While the trend for increasing part time students has continued, the number of full time students has been increasing steadily since However, the number of full time undergraduates in built environment degrees is still 3,194 below the 1996 level. If part time students are

5 included in the analysis, the total number of students in the higher education system has only risen by 453. This is meagre in relation to the annual requirement of 10,530 managers and 9,280 Architects and Technical Engineers referred to above. Architecture Building Landscape Planning Other FT UG PT UG Total UG FIGURE 1: Built Environment Undergraduates (Source HESA) The proportion of students studying different types of degrees has shifted markedly over the same timespan. The number of students studying architecture has risen by 43.3% between 1996/97 and 2004/05 (Table 1). This provides a healthy provision of potential architects to respond to the significant upturn in demand from industry. In the same period there has been an almost identical decline in the number of students studying degrees under the classification of building. This is a stark reality, considering the industry is predicting a requirement for 10,530 additional managers per annum. The higher education system is producing only 7,430 building graduates. And only a percentage of them will go on to fulfil the role of manager. This presents one of the

6 fundamental causes of the skills shortage that will be experienced over the next five years and beyond. TABLE 1: Full Time and Part Time UK Students % of total FT % of total FT % change Architecture % % 43.3% Building % % -39.9% Landscape % % -30.4% Planning % % -21.4% Other % % -46.2% FT UG % % -11.8% PT UG Total UG The issue of attracting higher levels of females into the construction industry has been hailed as a panacea to the skills shortages. Architecture courses attract a higher proportion of female students than any other built environment degree. While not fully the balance of male and female students more closely reflects the demographics of the working population. Degrees under the classification of Building are where there is a significant imbalance in the proportion of male and female students. In an appraisal of the gender balance of graduates from four of the top providers of building degrees in the UK it is evident that female representation is extremely low (Table 2) TABLE 1: Number of Female and Male Graduates in Architecture, Building and Planning 2002/2003 (Source HESA) Total UG Female Male (n) (n) % of total (n) % of total Heriot Watt % % Loughborough % % Reading % % Salford % %

7 4 Initiatives for Schools and Universities CITB Construction Skills and the DTI have developed a number of initiatives to target school children, with the aim of increasing awareness of the construction industry and the careers available. The objective is to increase the number of applicants to the construction industry at professional and workforce levels. One of the key challenges is to tackle stereotyping. When embedded at school and through careers advice, this can prove to be a significant barrier to increased diversity. There are a number of schemes designed to encourage female entrants onto built environment degree programmes. CITB Construction Skills has been responsible for the following initiatives: 500 inspiring young people who work in the industry have been trained up as Construction Ambassadors and attend schools across the country to give young people a real life perspective of the industry. ConstructionSkills has run National Construction Week for the past five years. One of the focuses for this year is encouraging women and ethnic minorities to enter construction by providing hands on experience of the industry. Major Positive Image advertising campaigns are run each year, with research revealing a transformation in the image of a career in construction amongst young people, especially women. The website also offers construction careers information and advice, featuring positive role models for young people. Approximately 2,500 professional development days about careers in construction were delivered to careers advisers and teachers in All of these approaches are actively improving the image of the construction industry to encourage young people into the industry. The further more fundamental challenge is to keep them there.

8 5 Retention in the Construction Industry The number of graduates remaining in the construction industry and developing a career varies depending on a number of factors. Dainty et al. (1998) explored the issue of retention of professional staff in construction organisations and concluded that retaining members of staff was critical to the competitiveness of the organisation. Interorganisational movement was observed to be a characteristic of the construction industry, but while an individual remains in the sector they are not a loss in terms of the skill pool. The phenomenon of individuals leaving the industry is a cause of concern to the sector. The migration of professionals away from the industry to other sectors will be a continuing issue for the construction sector. There is a need to evaluate the reasons for the movement away from a career in construction and to respond positively to these factors. The competitiveness of the industry and its reputation will be undermined by fragmentation of its skills base. 6 Conclusions The higher education sector has a vital role to play in the long term viability and vibrancy of the construction industry. The provision of a degree that satisfies not just academic standards and professional accreditation requirements, but a well rounded qualification that provides graduates with a clear understanding of a career in construction is needed. There is evidence that this is not happening in all cases. Many large companies have graduate training programmes to develop skills necessary to perform their roles within the construction industry. There is an opportunity for the higher education sector to take a more joined up approach to developing these skills within academic programmes to enable graduates to commence careers from a stronger position. Not enough professionals are entering the industry and not enough are being retained. The higher education sector must address this problem to remain a vital step in the education supply chain for the construction sector. This research project will look at these issues as part of a longitudinal process that does not end upon graduation.

9 7 Next Stage The research project will move forward in stages. A longitudinal study will establish the key issues influencing the decision to embark on a career in construction. Applicants, students and graduates will be interviewed to determine factors Factors will be established to characterise the perceptions of the construction industry held by school aged applicants to built environment degree programmes. The key determinants of course choice will be established to analyse the primary reasons for choosing a degree in the built environment Students studying built environment degrees will be questioned to determine the expectations of individuals once embarked on a course and supposedly with increased awareness of the industry. Students on sponsored placement will be compared with students with little or no work experience. This will explore the value of exposure to the industry while studying. Graduates in the early years of careers in the construction industry will be involved in the study to establish how the perceptions held match up with the reality of the construction industry.

10 8 References ACCA (2002) Corporate Sector Review Issue 41 July 2002, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants CITB (2002) Building Awareness: The Educational Supply Chain Construction Industry Training Board. CITB (2006) Blueprint for UK Construction Skills , Construction Industry Training Board. Construction Skills (2006) Sector Skills Agreement, Construction Industry Training Board. Dainty, A R J, Bagilhole, B M and Neale, R H (1998) Improving the retention of construction professionals: a soft HRM approach. In: Hughes, W (Ed.), 14th Annual ARCOM Conference, 9-11 September 1998, University of Reading. Association of Researchers in Construction Management, Vol. 1, 40-9 HESA (2006) Higher Education Statistics Agency Powell, A, Dainty, A R J, Bagilhole, B M and Neale, R H (2005) Coping in construction: female students' perspectives. In: Khosrowshahi, F (Ed.), 21st Annual ARCOM Conference, 7-9 September 2005, SOAS, University of London. Association of Researchers in Construction Management, Vol. 1,

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