Tim Bailey, Partner at Xsite Architecture

With rapid advances in technology, a new political landscape and an ever growing urban population – times are indeed changing.

If we are to meet the needs and demands of our evolving economy, we must ourselves be willing to adapt. No job in any sector will remain the same; in fact, there are predictions that by 2050, nearly all current jobs will be replaced by roles not yet known about.

The next generation must be equipped with a transferrable skillset and the ability to manage change alongside any vocational and academic education training.

Like most other industries, the construction sector is in the midst of a huge skills shortage –across all professions, on and off site. This is only set to get worse when you factor in our growing population needs, the Government’s new housing strategy targets and Brexit being firmly on the horizon.

On top of this, the educational pathways currently in place for construction-related professions are not only inflexible, but widely seen as ineffective when it comes to delivering useful skill and knowledge to the workplace.

Full time degrees leading to professional qualifications are too often long and isolated from practice experience. 

There is no easy answer here – but what is clear is the importance of employer engagement. With input from industry experts, we can ensure that the practical knowledge and skills being taught in colleges are not only relevant, but that the quality of delivery is high.

Employability and ‘softer’ skills are regularly cited by employers as being underdeveloped in school/college leavers. Collaboration with businesses and educators can undoubtedly help plug this gap.

Employers can feed back as to what is happening on the ‘ground’ in the real world. They can demonstrate the changing landscape to which businesses must adapt in order to survive. To thrive in their studies and succeed in their future career, students must understand the industry they are specialising in and the relevance of the skills they are learning.

For colleges wanting to engage with employers – this really is a win-win situation. It allows businesses to secure a future pipeline of well-skilled employees, whilst providing young people with real life exposure to the workplace.

One of the biggest challenges for young people themselves is making the initial decision as to ‘what they want to do’. Traditional careers advice tends to be limited and there are many professions across all industries that are not even highlighted or discussed. This highlights the speed of change that characterises today’s employment market.

Visiting a workplace or getting access to an employer in some way immediately opens a young person’s eyes to the many, exciting career opportunities available within a particular industry. Gone are the days when young people’s horizons were limited by the visible jobs of a builder, teacher or hairdresser.

We will continue to need these skills but young people see how they and many other job types are being impacted as we enter a new digital age with endless possibilities across all industries.

If young people are better informed about different career pathways, they can make more informed decisions about their training – potentially reducing debt if they choose take a work-based route, such as an apprenticeship.

Yet with our increasingly academically-focused national curriculum, teachers and tutors have their work cut out getting students through the qualification. Little time is left to promote alternative pathways or teach employability skills and business etiquette, which are all so incredibly important to a young person’s career success.

But this can be addressed by bringing employers in and I am encouraged by some of the excellent joint initiatives being launched.

My company and my peers in the sector challenged  Gateshead College to develop a new skills programme which met our specific industry needs and together we have created a new higher level skills route into our industry which began last September and is going incredibly well.

We are continuing to develop the programme working closely with Gateshead College and this has extended into other projects including its new Construction Management and Architecture Career College which will enable us to attract more talented, capable young people into our sector and into great careers.

These innovative and imaginative learning pathways are demonstrating the range of benefits that partnerships between education providers and employers bring to both sides.

Employers get the benefit of the young person’s enthusiasm and energy, which can be invaluable to businesses. Greater exposure to a work place means that a young person will be equipped with a wider set of transferable skills, arming them with the ability to succeed in their career.

Colleges like Gateshead are demonstrating that it’s possible do things differently and to be truly flexible for the benefit of employers and their students.

In fact, the greater the exposure to diverse work practices and styles across sectors, the greater the young person’s ability to coordinate, collaborate and communicate.

These are the universal skills our future workforce needs. We must all take responsibility for ensuring they are delivered effectively, helping us to create a more vibrant and successful economy.

By Tim Bailey, Partner at Xsite Architecture

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