This new insight paper from YouthSense looks at what might be stopping young people working in the construction industry. It draws on a survey of 305 15 to 24-year olds forming part of a free online course, which aims to teach young people about careers in the construction. This is what they found.

“Only 2% of Gen Zs said they know ‘a great deal’ and 5% ‘a lot’ or about careers in construction.” The paper also reports that:

“While 28% said they know a ‘moderate amount’, a whopping two thirds in total said they know a little (45%) or nothing (21%). So, in total not even a tenth of young people have any real idea about what’s going on in the construction industry.”

Moreover, three out of four Gen Zs they surveyed told them “they were unlikely (48%) or definitely not (27%) going to work in the construction industry, or that about 17% were ‘neutral’” [and] “just 2% said they definitely want to work in construction, while 6% said they were likely to.” So, not a big pool of ‘definites’ or ‘probables’ to draw from.

What would attract them?

Several priorities seem to be in the mix: first the money (33%) and second, being outdoors and not stuck behind a desk (29%). Another motivator was the variety of day to day work (14%), while 10% said the industry offered the potential to start a business one day and “7% said for its recognised skills to work overseas.” However, 7% said none of the above were attractive about working in the industry.

What might turn them off construction courses then?

The paper reports that:

“more than half (51%) of Gen Zs [pointed to it] being physically demanding, 36% said it [was] too male dominated, 35% said [they had] sexism concerns, 22% said no flexibility, 21% said bullying concerns, 20% said working outdoors and it not being a desk job [this was also an attraction to others as noted above – and] 16% said status was a barrier for them.” However, nearly a quarter (23%) said none of the above concerned them.

It’s true that “perceived sexism and being male dominated are both high on the list of barriers to working in construction, particularly for females.” But this is not always necessarily the case, and some females find a path through to construction work as research by Jones and her colleagues found when looking at the electrical trades in 2017 (You can access that work here). Indeed, the YouthSense paper reports that one 16-year old said:

“My boyfriend’s father and mother own their own construction company and my boyfriend works for their company. They enjoy their jobs and take pride in it and it has motivated me to take on a passion in the construction industry,”

So, it’s that familiarity thing again, and this is what Jones and her colleagues found as well. Personal suitability and interest are factors too.

Demand versus status?

As one male respondent to the survey said:

“Another thing that may be a factor for me to not pick this career is that I’m under the impression that this career isn’t necessarily highly considered in status which isn’t ideal if I want to tell my parents that I want to pursue this type of job.”

An image and stereotype thing, perhaps?

On the other hand, classic trades in construction like bricklaying, carpentry, concreting, plumbing and plastering are in high demand and often well-paying (especially if you also throw ‘sparkies’ into the mix). Just look at the national skills shortage lists for apprenticeships! While this list dates back to 2019 it’s unlikely that things have changed too much since then in trades like bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, plasterers, gasfitters, glaziers, painters, plumbers, tilers and even stonemasons. What may also be overlooked are the professional and paraprofessional roles the industry offers, including architects, draft persons, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, contract administrators or even interior designers.

In summary, construction, like many vocational and trade occupations, needs a better ‘sell job.’ This needs to start at schools and with independent – and better – careers advice.