A Matter of Education in Construction

On 26 May I attended a BRE hosted event with University Campus St. Albans. I was invited to be one of the speakers as the G4C Co-chair and I was asked to prepare a speech on the following:

‘What is the industry’s response to the question: does education matter in construction?’

At first I thought my speech was going to be very easy and extremely short, because the answer is obviously ‘Yes’ isn’t it? However I thought that maybe I should look into a few things in more depth, if only to fill the 20 minute time slot allocated to me.

And so I started the most pressing questions: who am I, what is G4C and what the heck am I doing here?

Julia Lydall, Senior Cost Manager, Turner & Townsend and Co-Chair of G4C, and what is G4C? A free not for profit initiative to give the younger generation a voice in the construction industry. We hope to enable and upskill our younger generation of construction professionals to shape the industry of the future. The industry that they will lead in the years to come. G4C is here to ask questions that have not been asked yet, to provoke thought and provide insight in new areas and that is also the justification I gave for why I had been asked to give this talk.

The theme of the talk was based in a concept explored in Andrew Wolstenholme’s ‘Never Waste a Good Crisis’. The concept being that in every problem there is opportunity for something new and something better. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.

The content of the talk was some of the more intriguing topics which G4C are looking into at the moment. Each is a threat / issue being experienced by the construction industry and each has a corresponding opportunity.

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Skills shortage

– There are not enough people coming through the education system to be able to fill the number of roles needed to deliver the magnitude of construction planned.

+ This generates great opportunities for the individual, you will be valued and competition amongst companies for you will be high. Going forward new skills as well as time honoured traditional construction skills will be highly valued.

Under-graduate’s roles don’t exist yet

– The industry is changing so fast we don’t even know what construction roles will look like in the future.

+ New and diverse skills are required, new niche markets are being discovered. The future market will need people to be flexible and creative. Required skills will change, we may find that we have to spend a lot of our time in industry learning new skills and developing new capabilities.

Automation, data, digitisation and machine learning

– Sounds a bit Sci-fi, but will a robot steal your job? If engineers develop the robotic skills required, no doubt, robots will cost far less to operate than a person.

+ Are we sure that it’s only the boring, repetitive jobs will be done by robots? Will all the interesting creative, innovative and dexterous and skilled jobs still be left for humans to do?

Productivity – being more efficient

– There is a huge amount of waste in the construction industry, both in terms of physical waste, financial waste and time. We need to be better at what we do and how we do it.

+ This will require new options: new procurement solutions, new collaborative relationships. New organisational and project management structures.  Improved, auditable communication, this could mean more direct relationships and fewer ‘tiers’ of hierarchy.

Health and Safety

– H&S is not just about the S. Health issues are statistically more deadly than Safety issues, if less immediately apparent.

+ This will continue to be a higher priority as corporate social responsibility and liability become an ever more important factor. A growing factor for consideration is the increased public access to worldwide communication channels, which allow everyday people to publicise and draw attention to non-media lead information and stories. How will this impact branding for companies and industries alike? With H&S stories being (unfortunately) still quite prevalent in our industry and as an emotive subject, likely to spread.

Open data

– Will someone steal your data or the data hoarded by your company? What would they do with it if they did?

+ Hackathons – an event to open a company’s data to a group of innovative IT experts. Providing corporations with the innovative talents of hundreds of talented techies. In most parts of Asia the attitude to data is: Default to Open. With this starting point, companies have to justify why particular parts of their data should be kept secret. Default to open is a huge advantage; creating potential for innovation and progress. Something we in the West are yet to truly comprehend.

Sustainability, social value and responsibility

– Global resources are continuing to be used up far too fast and as world populations rise this problem is only set to accelerate.

+ We need to start living and building more stringently and utilising replaceable resources. Better use of existing resources. Creation of a circular economy, a sharing economy, creating “Mesh Business Models”.  Book Reference – The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing by Lisa Gansky

Our built heritage

– 70% of buildings standing in 2050 are already built. New building regulations will only apply to new buildings.

+ What do we do about energy inefficient existing stock? Creative solutions to 1st world problems.  Combating apathy towards sustainability. Do we use more emotive arguments, can we use social media? How can we inform everyone of the magnitude of the issue?

The sharing economy and new ways of working

– A changing status quo: Most of our grand-parents got a job when they were 14-16 and stayed with that same employer until retirement, our parents will have probably had 3 to 4 different employers by the time they retire. It is looking likely that the next generation will have several jobs simultaneously.

+ The people cloud: remote working people paid per task. Will permanent employment become a thing of the past?
This people cloud would be a great leveler across global boundaries, maybe this could create an equal global market and negate migration concerns. What would this do to global politics? Financial services? And what will is mean for the construction industry?


The main point I wanted to draw attention to with all this talk about data and change is the importance of good education and a continuing education. Even once we are qualified we will need to carry on constantly improving our skills and placing ourselves in a position to take advantage of niche markets to have successful and exciting careers in construction.
Data is like electricity. Data is going to revolutionise everything we do, just as electricity did in the industrial era.

Author: G4C