Generation Z: ensuring the built environment can secure its future-fit workforce.

The question of how to attract, develop and retain a talented workforce is not a dilemma unique to businesses operating in the built environment.

But as the world of work evolves, and with it the perceptions and wants of future generations, the imperative to answer it could not be clearer.

Research from the Construction Youth Trust (CYT) conducted in 2018 estimated that only 7% of UK secondary-school leavers would pick the built environment as their first career choice. That is a statistic which must change if the industry is to address its enduring skills shortage. Without action, the shortfall will increase as the sector’s workforce becomes older and the impact of post-Brexit restrictions on the free movement of workers manifests.

Generation Z is the next cohort of young talent which our industry must engage with – and quickly.

As design and build becomes more digitally-enabled, the industry will soon find itself competing for not just the traditional roles, but for the data scientists and programmers who are increasingly courted by every sector undergoing digital transformation.

The sector has been working to dispel outdated perceptions about the kind of roles available for years. There have been noteworthy collaborative efforts between industry, government, and education providers to effect change. But there is still a lack of understanding about the raft of diverse roles available and more work to be done to enable young talent to fully explore the rewarding career paths on offer.

However, with Gen-Z – loosely defined as people born between 1995 and 2010 – there is now a sense of serendipity which forward-thinking companies competing to recruit and retain a future-fit workforce must harness.

This age group are true digital natives. The vast majority also place a real emphasis on sustainable, inclusive, and socially responsible ways of working – perhaps more than any generation before them. There is little interest in profit without purpose.

We have a real opportunity to engage with future talent on these agendas like never before. There can be few industries with both the ability to create lasting social value for communities, and the responsibility to markedly reduce our collective carbon footprint.

But although we know that in broad terms these shared objectives should align, have we engaged sufficiently with Gen-Z to know what specifically they want? Not just from a top-line industry perspective, but in detailed terms across a full cycle of career development, spanning recruitment to reward, and progression.

How we set about talking to those audiences

Just over a year ago, Morgan Sindall Construction, Gleeds and HBD decided that we had not, and set about correcting that.

Together, we launched a combined initiative involving six of our recent graduates to help answer those questions.

Over a year-long programme, they were asked to help us identify ways to attract Gen Z and to establish what this group of future talent prioritised throughout a career. They were given a blank canvas to propose innovative ideas aimed at attracting, engaging, motivating, and rewarding their peers.

Importantly, the group had not all studied the typical courses which many embarking on a career in the built environment have. With degrees ranging from history to criminology, our cohort offered a diverse range of insight and experience which we felt was invaluable.

Many of the ideas centred on the desire to have a positive impact on society and to feel that they are making a difference.

There was a real sense that Generation Z want to take ownership of their career development. Our group suggested a universal app to track career progression and continuous professional development within the industry. This would give them the flexibility and freedom to develop their career through a portfolio model, with job sculpting to construct roles better aligned with their strengths and passions.

Job security and stability and the chance to work in businesses which offer fair and transparent reward and recognition were also prized.

Taking inspiration from many of the policies and perks which abound in the tech industry, one creative idea centred on self-setting salaries and agreeing remuneration transparently within teams. It’s easy to consider ideas like this blue-sky thinking. But if the industry is to succeed in a multi-industry battle for talent, we can ill afford to dismiss even the most radical of suggestions without real thought.

With that in mind, the next step is to test these recommendations and theories on a larger sample size.

All three businesses involved have committed to in-depth research to gauge whether our own Gen-Z colleagues speak for the wider cohort. We will be reporting the results in a white paper to be published later this spring.

The partnership between Morgan Sindall Construction, Gleeds and HBD is now established. We are designing a rotating graduate scheme which will allow our new recruits to gain invaluable experience and perspectives working for main contractor, consultant, and developer prior to choosing and committing to a career path.

In Generation Z, we have a cohort of future talent closely aligned to the core agendas our industry must address, more than any which has gone before them. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that we attract, develop and retain them, to secure the industry’s future-fit workforce.