Building Pathways 2017

Creating Opportunities – how can we unlock the potential of disengaged, disaffected young people to fill the construction industry skills gap?

An eclectic mix of speakers told us about what they were doing as organisations, how individuals had made they most of their opportunities and illustrated some of the barriers the industry was facing in recruiting new entrants. The third Building Pathways event was sponsored by Skanska and held at their Cambridge site offices on Wednesday 17th May 2017.

Justin Phillips, who was a Highly Commended Finalist at last year’s Awards, launched the 2017 Young Builder of the Year Awards. He said how much attending the Awards Ceremony at the House of Commons had meant to him and encouraged everyone to apply this year.

Justin told us about his story and how he had transformed his life from being a young offender to becoming a management trainee with Morgan Sindall. He spoke about how he had made the most of the opportunity given to him and how through hard work and commitment he was now building a successful career.

Paul Senior, Managing Director of Soarbuild, a social enterprise, told us that it needed to be profitable like any SME and could not rely on its partner Keepmoat to support it. To do this they are currently working further afield from their South Yorkshire base. The work is mainly with social housing providers which creates the opportunity to engage with the local community and support the training and development of local residents. Soarbuild’s success can be illustrated by the fact that 30% of the workforce, on their current projects, are local residents now employed by them.

Harry Wain, Skanska Community Engagement Advisor at the Battersea Power Station talked about how they were targeting helping 600 local people over the course of the development and had already helped over 400. He said this was being achieved by truly engaging with the supply chain and the local community and organisations such as Bounce Back. The success to date reflected the partnerships that had been created. Harry was really enthused by the success of the ex-offenders they had employed. He felt that we should celebrate their achievements and let everyone know how they can become great employees.

Jane Cosh, Essex Youthbuild – explained how they had evolved from working with only young offenders to a mix of disadvantaged 14 to 19 year olds referred to them by a variety of agencies. She explained their flexible approach – no formal entry requirements, late starts (9.45am), breakfast provided, attendance bonuses, roll on/roll off starts, which enabled them to engage and develop their students. How EYB’s programmes are workshop based with minimal classroom time with a 5:1 student to instructor ratio. She also told us about their “Trade School” a free after school activity that gives young people a vocational experience. The key issue she raised was the lack of progression for the young people who had achieved a solid foundation in construction but were unable to progress into apprenticeships.

Stephanie Mills, Skanska, a Health and Safety Advisor at the Cambridge site, talked about the need to encourage more women into the industry. That we needed to identify role models and get them to go into schools and tell young women about the huge range of career possibilities – trade, technical, professional and management, that are available. She encouraged the audience to become STEM ambassadors to promote construction in schools as she and Jessica do.

Mark Lee, Barnardo’s, The Hub Construction Skills Centre, Stepney Green, described the work they do, their successes and failures. All the young people who attend the Hub have been referred to them by the local authority and arrive with a variety of issues.  Winning the young people’s trust and building relationship is the first stage before engaging them in construction. He explained the range of difficulties some of the young people faced. Some make the most of the opportunities and progress, whilst others do not.

Jessica Lumley, Skanska, a Construction Supervisor at the Cambridge site, told how she wanted to be a forensic scientist however she changed to read law at university, then got a job in HR with Skanska. Once there she discovered all the opportunities that construction offers and changed career. She explained that when at school no-one even suggested a career in construction and how her ambition now was to promote the industry in schools and help make construction, with its’ wealth of opportunities, the career of choice for young people.

Kevin O’Connor, Durkan – explained that the company ethos is to engage and support local communities they work in and to deliver training, apprenticeships and employment opportunities for residents and local groups. Durkan identify young people that they can develop into good employees, often transforming their lives in the process. Recent successes were Rebecca Russell, who won the Tradeswoman of the Year Award in March 2017 and Chidi Nnebe who was chosen as the Young Builder of the Year in October 2016.

Tristan Robinson, Wingates, an electrician who works at the Cambridge site, suffers with ADHD and dyslexia, talked about his battle to get the appropriate GCSE’s to start an apprenticeship and how all the hard work was now paying off. He highlighted that there were lots of people similar to himself, that were potential construction workers, but were put off by the academic requirements and ended up working at Tesco’s because those jobs were immediately available and did not require qualifications. He wanted to know what the industry was going to do to facilitate these, good employees, enter the construction industry?

Stephen Ratcliffe, Chair of Youthbuild UK, closed proceedings by thanking everyone for attending, Skanska for sponsoring the event and to all the speakers for their interesting, entertaining and thought provoking presentations.



It wasn’t all presentations, lots of networking, food and drink and some hilarity!

Kevin says “I can’t put that in my presentation!”