Construction: it’s learning to be better…

I chose a career in learning because people fascinate me.

We are unique as a species in our capacity to develop and grow and I’m privileged to have been a part of that journey with many amazing individuals. I get paid for doing something that fills me with joy.

I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and yet, I have a dark secret – I work in construction! As we all know this is an industry with a reputation for training people, not developing them. A place for you to carve out a living if you weren’t quite good enough…

Well dear reader, I humbly beg to differ; my experience has been of an industry striving to innovate and improve, one aware of its shortcomings, operating in the toughest of circumstances and doing all of that with a smile on its face and a steely determination at its heart.

Changing that perception will be tough but it’s not impossible and if we continue to focus on the areas below that change may happen sooner than you think…

We must continue to embrace technology and innovation. We’re a traditional sector but the advent of virtual reality systems, AI and 3D printing offer the chance to turbo charge the way we work and make the whole sector attractive to a generation raised on their smartphones.

Building Information Modelling, or BIM, already allows us to generate digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a place – it’s the tip of the iceberg.

Imagine being able to take that representation and turn it into a VR walk through. Well, you don’t have to because some forward thinking businesses are already doing it to show their clients what the finished project will look like.

Imagine being able to reduce a projects carbon footprint by rendering materials on-site by using 3D printers? No need, this is already being done just not on a grand scale.Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

To be innovative we must encourage a diversity of thought, which means attracting a broader breadth of individuals to the sector. Construction and engineering is male dominated – fact.

We have to turbo charge our efforts here but do so in a coordinated, consistent manner which is why the Construction Leadership Council is backing a bold commitment to ensure that 30% of apprentice and graduate starts are female and 15% BAME by 2025.

My own business, NG Bailey, is looking at our whole organisation through one simple lens – are we fair in the way we do what we do from the perspective of our people? If we’re fair in our approach then it’s a short step to ensuring inclusiveness and an environment where anyone can flourish.

Interestingly, The National Centre for Diversity has more private sector members from construction and engineering than any other.

As our organisations become more diverse they increasingly need to be led in a different way. We’re traditional and hierarchical, so the prevailing management style has long been more authoritarian than collegiate. However, there’s a shift underway.

I was recently a guest at Ashorne Hill Conference and Training Centre, near Leamington Spa, and was struck by the number of construction and engineering businesses they boast as longstanding clients who they are working with to develop the coaching capabilities within their organisations.

As an industry we understand the importance of great leadership and its impact on our teams; long gone are the days when technical skills were the key to unlocking the door for promotion.

At Hinkley Point C, the new nuclear power station in Somerset, all supervisors must have a Level Three Management and Leadership qualification as part of their skills portfolio to be eligible for the role – where else is that level of qualification mandated by all the employers as a minimum?

Again, my own organisation is in the midst of a huge piece of development for its managers focusing on their ability to engage with, and coach, the people in their teams. We are not alone in doing this; we just aren’t very good at shouting about it, so the perception remains of an old fashioned industry with old fashioned practices.

In a similar vein we talk a lot about health and safety but the fact is we do more and we spend more on safety. It stands to reason that in such a potentially dangerous environment the safety of your people is paramount.

What we’re now seeing is a much greater shift towards health, particularly mental health. There’s a much greater appreciation of the importance of mental health and the part that well-being plays in looking after your employees. We’re starting to think holistically and recognise the importance of the “whole”.

Construction businesses are developing mental health first aid training and appointing MH First Aid representatives. We’re talking to our employees about their well-being and issuing safety shares that highlight the dangers of sunburn or dehydration.

We have senior executives talking with employees about their own experiences dealing with mental health issues in an open and honest way to help break the stigma attached to the subject and show that it’s okay to talk it – how’s that for a sector that doesn’t talk about its feelings?

I’ve even been asked – as a practising Buddhist – to talk to people about the part that mindfulness plays in maintaining a healthy work-life balance!

And finally, we need to tell people about all this great stuff and stop hiding our light under a bushel.

We create beautiful places for people to live and work, are shaping the country’s infrastructure and ensuring we have the energy provision needed to operate in an ever more connected world.

What we need to be better at is telling that story. We need to energise people with the possibilities of a career in the sector and show them an industry that is trying every day to be better than it was.

We need to reach out to schools, teachers and parents and show them an industry that’s changed and is continuing to change.

An industry with a proud history, strong values that also happens to be a great place to work, build a career and make a difference.

If we can share this enthusiasm, energy and commitment then my hope is that many more people will come to experience this sector the same way I have. Not as a place that people “settle” for but as one of opportunity, excitement and possibility.

Who knows, it might even start to sound a little sexy…