Jess Morgan is a community engagement co-ordinator for Kier Construction in Western & Wales, Here, Jess explains how we are taking a proactive, collaborative and innovative approach to addressing the skills crisis facing the built environment.

“If you say the words ‘built environment’ to many schoolchildren and ask them what it makes them think of, they will often say words such as ‘skyscrapers’, ‘roads’ or ‘high viz jackets’, but very rarely do they mention the people behind the projects or the lasting legacies that our sector can have on communities across the country.

Our industry is still seen by many as ‘muddy’, ‘manual’ and ‘male dominated’ and I know first hand that this is not the case. Every day I get to see what our teams are doing across Wales, from building state-of-the art new schools to the SA1 development and Arena Wales and the job and training opportunities it is providing for so many. We are shaping communities, and not just through the buildings that we are constructing.

Working collaboratively with partners CITB, CIOB, University of Wales Trinity St David, CWIC, Careers Wales, we have developed a bespoke programme called Go Construct: Engage programme, aimed at changing the perceptions of the construction industry and addressing the future skills gap.

This initiative wasn’t just based on what we thought students thought of our sector, we carried out detailed research with the University of Wales Trinity St David to really understand the barriers to entry, with one of the most striking statistics highlighting the lack of visibility. 90% of those interviewed said they had no engagement at all with the construction industry.

As an industry, if we are not engaging and working with students and local communities how can we expect things to change?

At Kier, we are committed to working with local communities in all areas that we build. Our report is full of case studies showcasing how we have engaged with schoolchildren to educate them on what we do, the difference we can make and the breadth of careers available within the built environment.

Take, Woodland Special Educational High School. As a school, are committed to creating a stimulating learning environment that prepares pupils for their future. The Deputy Headteacher, Lisa Purcell took part in our national survey and then we met with Lisa to discuss the aims of the programme, the school priorities and how they could be potentially enhanced through engagement. Already working closely with Careers Wales, Lisa recognised that establishing meaningful links with Kier and its supply chain would provide an opportunity to build a sustainable programme of work that incorporates role model engagement and real awareness raising for its students.

The conversation didn’t stop there though, we took this feedback and carried out a workshop at the school. We created a challenge whereby 60, 13year olds+ aged students had to construct a bridge using Strawbees. The teams had to consider design and construction of the bridge, how to test it and the costs of building it, which required them to utilise a number of skills, including; communication, mathematical and problem solving. We were then able to share how we at Kier would go about solving this challenge and highlighting the different roles requires, from quantity surveyors to project managers and architects.

This is just one example of how we are actively engaging with schools across the country every week. After each visit learnings are always logged, so we continue to understand all aspects of our outreach programme – from which challenges schoolchildren like and engage with the most, to what teachers and careers advisors think to whether perceptions have been changed and a career within the built environment will now be considered.

We are also looking at other innovative ways to engage with students. We are fully supporting the MiFuture app which aims to mobilise 100,000 young people towards employability and prosperity. It takes an ask ‘Alexa’ approach, so it’s designed to work in synergy with devices that many schoolchildren will already be utilising. MiFuture ‘Chief Mobiliser’, Gemma Hallett, approached Kier to be the first construction company to collaborate on the project. 

It’s a cliché and one that we’ve all heard before, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ but if we are to bring about change, we have to adopt a ‘bit-by-bit’ approach, getting out and meeting the next generation of talent to consider a career within our industry.

Bringing the industry together, from clients to contractors to supply chain, we are able to educate and engage with more people, with a collective voice and then share best practice and highlight what is working. In the coming year, we will roll out this free training programme and provide resources to upskill and mobilise businesses to better engage with schools.

Each time I visit a school and a student recognises and gets excited by something we have built and the impact it’s had on their lives, I feel incredibly proud. The foundations of our programme in place and I cannot wait to carry out more research and school visits to inspire even more students across Wales to consider a career within our diverse, fascinating and rewarding industry.”

To request a copy of the Go Construct: Engage programme report, please email Jess Morgan.