With the Cop26 Climate Meeting having come to an end in Glasgow, the pressing nature of the Climate Emergency is on everyone’s mind. Sustainable and environmentally conscious practices are of obvious importance and concern to the construction industry, and much is being done to advance the efficiency and carbon neutrality of building methods. But engagement with the ongoing crisis could also transform the construction industry in ways than one – it could help to close the skills gap.
One glaring obstacle faced by recruitment experts in the construction industry is the lack of people, specifically in the younger generation, training to become skilled tradespeople. Meanwhile, the current workforce is getting older, and EU workers are leaving the UK following the impacts of Brexit. At a time when the UK construction industry needs to be recruiting workers in their tens of thousands, the opposite trends are all too clear to see. Fewer young people are being drawn to the prospect of a career in construction than previous generations, and as a result, the future success of important infrastructure projects – like the promise of building an extra 300,000 houses per year, for example – hangs in the balance.
But one suggested approach towards attracting the next generation has been to engage more actively, more overtly, and with more urgency, to the ongoing Climate Emergency. Raj Somal, Director of Dice, a civil and structural engineering consultancy, has recently published an article addressing the ‘sustainable values’ shared by the younger ‘Gen-Z’ demographic, and suggests that ‘aligning’ with these values and ‘promoting an inclusive culture’ could dramatically aid attempts to close the skills gap, and attract future generations towards working in construction. At the same time, the industry could finally rid itself of outdated and inaccurate preconceptions which many have seen as the reason for a drop off in younger trainees.
A recent report has found that 62% of ‘Gen-Z’ are ‘aware and engaged with climate emergency issues’, but only ⅓ members of that generation see the construction industry as a place where they can meaningfully tackle these issues. It is surely a wise call, then, to ensure that the construction industry is seen to be fully addressing climate issues, not only to close the skills gap, but to ensure better environmental practice for its own sake, and go some way in realising net-zero targets by 2050.
Technology is key to this change, Somal writes. Perceptions of the industry are already changing with the introduction of advanced modern technologies, particularly in building methods and practices. REVIT, for example, is a tool used by Dice to generate 3D models of buildings, and technical mark-ups are increasingly used on iPads and other devices in order to ensure paperless practice. Using devices in the workplace has been viewed as a way to cater for a generation of highly technologically-literate individuals, who have essentially grown up using devices such as these.
But this development is not far enough by any means, and this much is acknowledged. Not only should building methods be environmentally conscious, but the projects themselves should adopt the same ambitions of carbon neutrality, especially considering that the built environment contributes towards 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint. It is not hard to understand why environmentally conscious, concerned young people are not feeling as comfortable as would be desired in pursuing careers within the construction industry – opportunities to avert climate disaster may not yet seem plentiful in the sector.
But the construction industry is changing, and there is much evidence of this. Modern methods of construction (MMC) are being constantly promoted by industry leaders, and more sustainable practices are seen more and more as a ‘win-win’ for businesses and developers – they save time and money for both parties. Businesses increasingly have an incentive to adopt the most environmentally friendly methods. And this is crucial, as noted above, not only to alleviate the concerns of the younger generation but to address the environmental issues which concern everybody on the planet.
If the construction industry can demonstrate its intentions to make a meaningful impact on issues surrounding climate, we could see a complete transformation in the number of young people who see the industry as a place of opportunity, to manifest environmental concerns and use those concerns to instigate change. The construction industry can place itself at the forefront of technological developments which aid our common progress towards net-zero targets.
After the momentous fortnight witnessed at Cop26 in Glasgow, and amid concerning reports that the planet is heating even beyond worst fears, it is more imperative than ever that change is enacted on the ground – that every new build, every piece of maintenance, every individual tradesperson, enacts the positive environmentally-conscious change that is needed. With everyone on board, who knows what the construction industry can achieve.
If you want to be a part of the changing face of the construction industry, there is no need to wait, and no time to lose. Become a skilled tradesperson today to join a workforce growing in environmental awareness. Use construction to create your meaningful impact.
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