Start ’em young – please

Crabbed age and youth cannot live together;
Youth is full of pleasure, age is full of care;
Youth like summer morn, age like winter weather;
Youth like summer brave, age like winter bare.

How are we to encourage more young people into this industry? We have to go out and find them. No matter how much we might love this sector, in our heart of hearts we know it’s unlikely there will be a line of school leavers all beating a path to their local independent builders’ merchants, clamouring to work in the yard, in the counter, the showroom or accounts.

For a start, they probably don’t know what a builder’s merchant is, unless they know someone who works at one, or owns one. That’s something that needs to change if the industry is to continue to develop and grow.

The trouble is, there are plenty of people in positions of influence who also don’t necessarily know what a merchant does, nor how many varied career paths there are within its parameters, and those of the wider building materials manufacturing and construction sectors.

This was brought home to me by an email I received this morning with details of the careers fair being held by my daughter’s school & the boys’ school opposite.

The sectors covered include: optometry, banking, charity overseas work, medicine – veterinary & human – insurance, dentistry, economics, the NHS, estate agency, TV, theatre production, newspaper journalism, the civil service, politics, art & design, and architecture. Hallelujah,  at last a recognition that the built environment matters. But, it appears, only if you design it. Not if you actually make it, or make the products to build it, or sell the products to build it.

It may be that the schools have picked these careers because they had volunteers from those sectors to come and talk to the youngsters. It may be that, as grammar schools, they have an inbuilt bias towards ‘professions’, or it may be that they lumped construction, architecture and everything that goes along with it together.

This sector doesn’t have a high enough profile amongst young people, and, equally as importantly, with the people who influence them – teachers, parents, friends & relatives.

One problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know – youngsters can’t aspire to a career if they don’t know it’s a thing. So they tend to aspire to what they know & see around them. If they’re good at art & design, they might like the idea of product design, or graphic design but might not realise just how many sectors would encompass that. Such as the building materials supply sector. How many career paths are hidden within our industry because we haven’t shed enough light upon them?

Name any area that a school or college leaver might be interested in and this sector can find a career that matches it.

The Hidden Careers initiative driven by the Construction Youth Trust and the Maddie Rose Campaign has been working on opening up the industry, getting into schools and colleges, showcasing the huge number of amazing opportunities within merchanting, in manufacturing and in the wider construction sector.

Last year, the Trust supported over 21,000 young people , and had 4, 991 hours donated by industry volunteers. This meant that they were able to help 554 young people to take a next step into employment, education and training.

In the last 12 months, this industry has done what it does best and come together as one, as a family, to raise not only a huge sum for the Campaign but also a massive amount of awareness of what it’s aiming to do.

There’s a job to be done in terms of increasing general awareness of career paths in the sector certainly, but for on-the-ground, targeted messaging that speaks directly to youngsters and teachers, the Maddie Rose Hidden Careers initiative is something that merchants and suppliers can get involved in now. You know why it’s important: it’s helping young people build a future in this industry, a future that one of our own didn’t get to have. The initiative is steered by the Construction Youth Trust, and their website has details of how we can all play a part in ensuring the industry’s future.

Go and have a look. You know it’s the right thing to do.

shutterstock 1482634055

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

Check Also


Get your yellow on for #MaddiesDay

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold it would …