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14th September 2018

Debating a sustainable industry as young professionals

At the CIOB Members’ Forum in Toronto in July 2018, we held a debate on the sustainable future of the construction industry chaired by Senior Vice President Charles Egbu. The world is changing and the area of sustainability is a big one, not just the environmental strand to that topic but also social dimensions, the issue of culture, equity and parity as well as the moral compass of our industry. It also encapsulates the economic footprint and life cycle of the built environment.

The debate included experienced leaders of the industry, as well as the voices of the future of construction. We’ve asked some of our future voices, four of our Novus Regional Group Representatives from across the globe, what else they would add or argue with.

Both sessions from the debate are available to watch for free on the CIOB Academy Portal. 

Debate 1: The current state of the industry 

The debate raised the need for construction professionals to put a greater emphasis on diction and presentation skills in order to become the leaders of the industry. Are there other skills that, although not directly related to the construction, are overlooked in the education and training of those entering the industry?

Jose Monteiro (Europe): There are many skills that aren’t necessarily taught in the education and training of entrants into the industry. We overlook skills like public speaking, networking, marketing in relation to promotion of projects and the industry, as well as professional communication skills.

Omar Barakat (MENA): Communication skills are definitely not to be underrated in construction. Especially on a global, multicultural scale (which is the case on many projects) where different cultures clash on site. Work ethics, working hours and general attitude on construction sites is different everywhere in the world. As a construction/project manager, you will end up working with people from different parts of the world and nothing makes a project successful more than clear communication between different team members.

The students in the debate highlighted the importance of changing the perception of the construction industry at an earlier age by getting in to schools and education, especially into all girls schools where construction is still not promoted as a viable career option for women. As Novus members, where do you think the industry is having success with this and what more can it be doing?

OB: There are many roles in construction for both men and women, the problem is that when a 14-15 year old girls hears the word ‘construction’ straight away she thinks of dust, cold/heat, rough and other unpleasant conditions of a construction site, which are unpleasant for men and women. On a personal level, I found that using the words ‘building/built environment’ is much more appealing than ‘construction’ – maybe by doing a quick survey targeting the younger generation asking would you enrol on a ‘construction management’ course versus a ‘building environment’ course we could see the impact?

JM: We need to be doing more in early years education and primary schools but often there is difficulty gaining access as a Novus individual as well as finding a timeslot within a strict curriculum. The industry also needs to do more to improve its marketing strategy to change the image and perception of the sector. I believe the main growth to women joining the industry is from the positive image of the women already coming through - women need to see more women.

Diversity is an important topic when addressing the skills gap and Dr Jon Callegher on the panel highlighted that there is also an issue of parental attitudes towards construction – that it’s not viewed as a financially strong nor healthy work-life balanced career. Jose, you mentioned the importance of marketing the industry better to families so what more can the industry be doing to convince parents that construction offers a great future career for their children?

JM: We need to approach this holistically – this means providing tools, information and environments that promote the industry. Initiatives such as Minecraft are great for connecting with a younger generation but we need more initiatives like it to be developed and rolled out across schools, universities and industry. Construction is usually not a destination of choice for most school leavers and this is partly contributed to by the lack of knowledge and variety of negative stories that outweigh the positives because of minimal marketing. The industry needs to target the public to explain how valuable construction is, the complexity involved and the end products we produce. There also needs to be more done to regulate the industry, removing “cowboys” and changing the terms associated with the industry.

Debate 2: The future state of the industry

Dylan, you raised a great point that digitalisation brings globalisation and, by using technology, we can begin to share information and best practice between the developing and developed world. What more can the industry do to bridge that gap and promote the construction sector as a global industry?

Dylan Rishworth (Sub Saharan Africa): Construction methods, practices, contracts etc. all differ around the world. We all have similar, yet slightly different approaches, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If we combine our collective knowledge, we can only improve the construction industry globally. It all starts with global organisations, like the CIOB, in terms of connecting members from around the world. Perhaps we could encourage more lessons learnt type of seminars to do so. International construction firms, like Mace, Arup, WSP, Kier etc. all also have a role to play in sharing best practice methods.

OB: Construction companies and consultancies should encourage rotation programs, where chosen/volunteering employees could travel between several countries doing their job.

Mark Nevshehir (Australasia): I feel it is still important not to be too focused on the digital side of construction as, at the moment, it still must be built and therefore who is going to build it? Seeing it for yourself is far greater than looking at it through VR.

Student Emily Turnbull on the panel discussed how Loughborough University was an attractive place to study because it brought modern technology in to the teaching syllabus early on in her degree. Do you see a gap between leaving education and entering industry in regards to the techniques and technology you were taught for the sector? Or is there a risk, as Candace says, that construction is at risk of bringing in a generation of professionals who are working backwards with technology?

OB: As a Loughborough graduate myself, I struggled to bridge the gap between the technologies I used at university and industry standards. I used laser scanners in 2009 as part of my coursework and only now laser scanners are becoming available in the Middle East market. As I started my first job I had to go back in time, because most of my colleagues had no clue what I was talking about.

MN: Also, I think it will be important to understand the roles that will be obsolete in the next ten years due to technology and push the ones which are not.

Student Nicholas Lourenco raised the idea of encouraging closer collaboration between the industry and other sectors that are primarily focused on cutting-edge technology, such as Artificial Intelligence. What can you see as being the barriers to the collaboration and how, as an industry, can we tackle them?

JM: There is no clear vision in the industry of how cutting-edge technology may look in the future, therefore there is the fear of the unknown. We need to identify the aspects and areas of work that AI and technology could assist with and work to allow us to improve education and training for those areas, including supporting the culture and attitude changes needed, as well as look at the time and cost for adopting and implementing these new technologies.

OB: This is always a debatable topic depending on the region. In the Middle East/Asia, labour is considerably cheaper than using technologies which would replace workers.


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