I started as an apprentice at 17; it was the right option for me and one which ultimately led to becoming a successful business owner. It has never occurred to me to think of apprenticeships or having a trade as anything ‘less than’ and I made that clear to my own son as he grew up. Now 15, he wants to be a mechanic and go in through an apprenticeship, a career move that I completely support and will help him achieve in any way I can. However, it shocked me to learn not everyone shares my enthusiasm.
During a recent open day at a Leeds-based college this is what they told him about becoming a mechanic: “you’re better than that”.
Imagine being told that your dream job was considered worthless. He was told to stay in education, that his predicted exam results meant he could go to uni and achieve more. As someone who benefitted hugely from an apprenticeship, the implications and ramifications of this are worrying at best and outright offensive at worst. Particularly as the need to act on the construction skills shortage is real, pressing and a huge area of concern for employers like me.
Careers in construction an ‘unknown’
As a company we’ve been proactively trying to engage with career days and schools but our experience, sadly, reflects what happened with my son. When we talk to students their response is consistent and disappointing; ‘we didn’t know this was an option’. One young lad thought he had to pay to do an apprenticeship with us!
What that tells us is that there’s a gulf between the modern construction industry and what young people are being told about working in construction. This article on LinkedIn makes some great points about action over words to tackle the construction skills gap and at BCS we like to think our track record of hiring and nurturing apprentices, taking part in open days and even holding up my own career journey as an example of what’s possible demonstrates we value action over endless debate.
Yet, my own son being told that his chosen career is somehow less worthwhile is a damaging trope we have to address. Both as a father and an employer this makes me angry and worried for young people. Students are expected to push themselves and head off to university my question is, for what? Is the future of our country to have all the qualifications in the world and then work in menial jobs with no prospects as thousands of people with expensive degrees and a huge amount of debt going for the same job? It just doesn’t make sense to me. As an adult would you let others shoehorn you down a career path you don’t want to go? Then why are we funnelling young people into universities when there are jobs out there in construction that could provide them with experience, offer a sense of belonging and just as much (if not more) career progression and opportunity as a degree?
Time for positive education on construction
For any education providers reading this, let me clear up a few myths and misconceptions about our industry.
If schools don’t feel confident in talking about construction to their students then there needs to be a bigger effort to build relationships between industry and education. Speaking on behalf of BCS, we’d welcome the chance to present the reality of a career in construction to young learners and equip them with the information to make an informed choice on everything from taking up an apprenticeship to how to maximise the opportunities from one.
Those who’ve met me know I have a real passion and commitment to our industry and giving young people the chance to achieve similar things to what I’ve achieved. Neither them, or my own son, should be made to feel inferior for having that aspiration.