Careers Explored: Constructing your future

Construction is a vast industry with a wealth of different careers that can be entered via a number of different pathways.

By working in this sector, you become part of the driving force behind building projects of all sizes. From bricklaying and joinery to quantity surveying and construction management, the job opportunities are endless.

You may decide that further education is not the right route for you and so apprenticeships or dedicated training programmes may be something to consider instead.

If you’re keen to learn a trade or craft such as carpentry, painting and decorating, plumbing, stonemasonry or scaffolding, you can gain the qualifications you need by completing a course at a local college or through an apprenticeship with on-the-job training.

Speaking about the benefits of a career in construction, Paul Crawford, head of construction at Wirral Met College, said: “Considering the skills shortage within the industry, there is a huge demand for qualified trades people. Learning a new trade with transferable skills gives you flexibility and allows you to consider alternative career pathways in the future.

“With employers demanding quality trades people, a career in construction offers attractive salaries, job security, job satisfaction and the option to travel and use your trade qualifications to gain employment in any part of the world.”

Wirral Met College offers a Bricklaying Diploma to those who are 16-18 years old which consists of a mixture of practical and theory work. The course covers health and safety, storing resources and materials, construction information, quantities, reading drawings and thin joint masonry.

Entry requirements include either a relevant level 1 qualification or a minimum of 3 GCSEs at Grade 3/D or above with satisfactory interview, school report and / or reference. Currently, the average starting salary of a bricklayer is upwards of £20,000 per year.

Recently, the college has seen a significant increase in enrolment across all courses concerning construction. Paul explained why this could be: “One factor of this increase locally is the regeneration of Wirral Waters in Birkenhead. The 30-year construction project will see employers invest in apprenticeships and develop the skills of people who are semi-skilled. Considering the scale of the regeneration project, employment prospects are huge and perfectly positioned for local people to consider learning a trade that offers job security with the benefit of working locally in Wirral.”

For those who prefer to earn money whilst you learn, there are a range of apprenticeships available in the sector. In March 2021, housebuilder Redrow released its annual report on attitudes toward apprenticeships and careers in construction.

It revealed that more than a third (37%) of young people surveyed say that the pandemic has decreased the likelihood of them choosing university in the future. It also highlighted that more than a third (36%) of young people are concerned about their job prospects since the onset of the pandemic, and routes that combine working and education have a greater appeal, with 42% of respondents more likely to pursue on the job learning such as an apprenticeship.

Karen Jones, group HR director at Redrow, said: “An apprenticeship with a construction firm can kickstart an exciting and varied career in this important sector for the UK economy. Apprenticeships blend real world, hands on experience with learning, so theory is quickly put into practice and vital workplace experience gained from the offset. We regularly survey our own apprentices on the benefits of undertaking an apprenticeship with us and they echo this sentiment, reporting one of the key positives as the ability to earn a salary whilst combining studying and training. A regular wage alongside their learning can give young people independence, as well as a sense of achievement for the value they are bringing to the business.

“A number of our apprentices also aspire to set up their own businesses within the construction sector, whether that is in carpentry, painting and decorating, electricals, and then go on to do so. We have observed that having to learn and problem solve on the job helps our apprentices develop skills which are key to entrepreneurism such as resilience, resourcefulness and teamworking. At Redrow we provide career progression paths for our apprentices so those who stay on with us can see a clear route to management. As an award-winning, top-10 UK housebuilder, our apprentices get to learn from the best and have the opportunity to be mentored by those at the top of their professions.”

Redrow can employ upwards of 250 apprentices at any one time, providing schemes across a range of specialisms, from site management, maintenance, commercial and office-based role.

Apprentice Charlotte Searle wanted to become a painter and decorator after finishing her GCSEs and was keen to start work and become financially independent as soon as possible.

In September 2020, Charlotte was accepted onto the Redrow apprenticeship programme as a painter apprentice with the South East division, and began her training at a Redrow development.

Charlotte said: “I have always had an interest in painting and could envision myself doing it when I’m older, so an apprenticeship was the ideal route for me. I have been able to learn a lot about the trade, all while earning a salary and getting lots of hands-on experience.

“It was a bit of a scary time to start an apprenticeship with concerns over a second wave. I was worried about whether it would put my immediate career plans on hold, however, thankfully I was able to continue and I’ve not looked back since!”

She added: “After finishing my apprenticeship, I am keen to study another trade such as a tiling, in order to build out my expertise and eventually set myself up to have my own decorating business. I’m grateful to Redrow for the opportunity to learn and earn a wage and would encourage others finishing their GCSEs to look into an apprenticeship as an option with great job prospects. There is a growing number of apprenticeships available so it’s worth doing some research, considering what interests you and giving something a try!”

There are some roles that often require a degree, for example, a quantity surveyor, architect, structural engineer and construction manager.

Liverpool John Moores University offers a BSc (Hons) Construction Management course which is becoming increasingly popular due to its exciting paid placement opportunities in one of the country’s largest industries.

The course is professionally accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Chartered Institution of Surveyors (RICS) and students have the chance to get to grips with industrial standard software and equipment.

Construction management looks at the design and construction of buildings and has become more complex as technology and the mechanisation of the building process have developed. Construction managers need excellent interpersonal skills as well as in-depth technical knowledge of all aspects of the construction process so that they can handle the responsibility of managing multi-million-pound projects.

Students have the chance to develop a good understanding of factors affecting the design, procurement, sustainability, and management of the building process. Particular focus is on technology, production and project management through the complete life-cycle of a project.

Dr Fiona Borthwick is head of construction and civil engineering at Liverpool John Moores University. She said: “There is currently high demand for well-educated and technically competent graduates and this course helps students gain the right knowledge and skillset required in this area of the industry.

“The course also offers paid placement opportunities which a lot of our students choose to take on as it gives them a foot in door. Depending on how far you push yourself during the placement, the opportunities can be endless, with some even working abroad. When they return for their final year, many students will continue working part-time alongside their studies, meaning they have a job to go into once they graduate.”

Career prospects for construction management graduates can be promising. Dr Borthwick added: “Most of our graduates go into construction management working for multi-national contractors and consultancies and also for organisations within the supply chain. You can often expect a starting salary of around £25,000 per year.

“Although the skills that are obtained within the programme can be applied to other areas such as financial control and project planning of resources.”

Despite the pandemic, the construction industry is continuing to go from strength to strength, and there appears to be real need for qualified professionals meaning that this sector could be a viable career option for young people. Finally, Paul Crawford offered this advice. He said: “Qualified trades people can earn good money; you can develop your skills further and consider opportunities around construction management, civil engineering and construction design. The construction industry is a changing environment in which you can explore opportunities working across the country or even consider working outside of the UK. You meet new people, the practical participation keeps you fit and healthy and considering every construction project is different, you can enjoy an exciting, challenging and rewarding long term career.”

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