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Real estate and infrastructure are at a critical juncture in the UK, with a global skills shortage, a climate emergency and the need to level up the country.

Complex challenges require top tier talent, and the imagination to think differently.  When it comes to ‘sexy’ sectors for the talent of the future, the built environment all too often slips under the radar – despite being at the heart of some of the biggest and most pressing issues facing society today.

Arguably this comes down to age-old perceptions of what the sector is and does.  Construction is not just a career for people who want to do manual labour – it is a rich and rewarding home for the software engineers, communicators, and creative designers of the future, who can pave the way to thriving communities.

Perceptions of different careers start incredibly young, and therefore early engagement is key; it is harder to change perceptions than instil them in the first place.  Recruitment strategies need to begin with primary school engagement, to bring to life what a career in the built environment means.  Practical, hands-on activities can be transformational – give a child a problem to solve and you’ll be amazed with their creativity and enthusiasm.

To capture imaginations throughout young people’s education, employers need to put faces to the people who make the industry tick.  Young people are increasingly wary of corporate communications with familiar slogans and stock images.  Share the lived experience of an employee – really tap into their story and personality – and you might just capture a youngster’s imagination.

The fact is, Generation Z are digital natives with a breathtaking skillset.  And PRCA research shows that climate change, one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, is the most important concern for Generation Z and millennials.  To alter perceptions, the built environment needs to demonstrate that it is not a monolith barring progress to net zero, but a progressive sector that is trying to tackle climate challenges head on.

There also needs to be a sustained effort to broaden the talent pool.  Diversity is an ongoing challenge for construction industries, but there are green shoots of hope through initiatives such as the Mayor’s Fund for London, championed by Sadiq Khan, which teams up with the sector to level the playing field for young Londoners from underrepresented communities.  By failing to attract underrepresented groups, organisations limit their own talent pool and fail to reflect the communities they work in.

Employers are often their own worst enemy when it comes to entry requirements.  Mace has recently demonstrated how flexing entry requirements (in terms of results and degree subjects) can lead to greater diversity without compromising standards.  Placing too much emphasis on long-accepted entry standards with unproven merit can close the door to a world of talent with the practical skills and creativity to solve the sector’s challenges.

Early engagement, personality, and lateral thinking – these are the key ingredients needed to secure an influx of talent into the built environment, and crucially, the future leadership pool for the sector.

Neil Cahill is an account manager at Camargue