By Julie Davis, AEM Director of Workforce Development

Workforce DevelopmentSometimes being new brings fresh perspectives on old ideas.

In my ongoing efforts to understand the construction sector and think about how AEM can play a part in changing the public’s perception of the skilled trades, I happened to stumble across an organization that made me stop and say “Wow.”

The Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) may not be new to you. But if you’re like me, and haven’t heard of it before, let me give you a quick overview:

  • It’s been in existence since 1997 in the United Kingdom, where the construction industry is working to change how it’s perceived. As is the case in the United States, there are unflattering – yet persistent – beliefs that construction is dirty, noisy, rough work, and a disruption to people living, working and commuting around it.
  • The aim of the CCS is simple: Improve the image of construction by changing how the public interacts with it. According to the organization’s website, the CCS targets “…any area of construction activity that may have a direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole. The main areas of concern fall into three categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment.”

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Focusing on the 'How'

What I like about this approach is that it’s focused on addressing how public perception is formed. The public comprised of parents, teachers, guidance counselors, students, and employable adults we want to help fill our workforce shortage don’t care about our current worker shortage. They also don’t care about the potential earnings loss associated with our inability to meet demand, or the thousands of jobs in the future our industry will need to fill. People form their perception of the industry through their interactions with construction projects while passing by jobsites. Their impressions are based on what they see and hear, as well as what’s been done to minimize their disruption.

Construction companies that join CCS agree to a code of considerate practice, which aims to ensure jobsites enhance the image of industry through appearing organized, neat and clean. This image enhancement includes facilities, vehicles, stored materials and workers. Perception equates to “seeing is believing.” If we don’t want the public to believe working in our industry is dirty and unsafe, we can start as simply as showing them as they walk or drive by. Don’t think it applies to you? Ultimately, it does. The general public doesn’t differentiate between manufacturers, dealers and contractors. If seeing is believing, what are you showing your community? What are you doing to invite the public in and let people see how our industry has changed over the past 30 years?

Engaging the Community

A second of focus for CCS is community engagement. More specifically, community engagement refers to informing the public about what is going on, reducing disruption and working to create a positive impact. One of the ways it’s accomplished is by visiting local schools to talk about such topics as what’s being done, safety and how to be engaged.

So why bother? Well, a 2016 survey found that 67% of adults wouldn’t consider working in construction because they perceived it to be low-paying, male-dominated, unsafe and lacking technology. Teachers and parents passed these views onto children, with 35% of advisors saying a career in construction was unattractive, and 25% of parents not willing to encourage their children in that direction (based on a survey of 2,000 British adults).

As part of its engagement with CCS, the construction industry has been actively reaching out, engaging young people and encouraging them to consider construction careers. According to the organization’s website, 91% of CCS survey respondents say their site or company engages with schools or youth groups, and 66% have personally visited schools or youth groups to discuss their careers. Two years later, CCS surveyed youth and found engagement was making a positive impact. There was an increase of 14% in young people who would consider working in the construction sector, positive career advice reported to have been given by an advisor was up by 10%, and there was a 9% decrease in the percentage of parents who would not approve of their child pursuing a career in construction. The lesson is that industry perception changes when new information is actively shared. The public isn’t going to go out of its way to learn about how our industry has changed. We need to go out of our way to tell the story.

Emphasizing Sustainability

A third area of focus for CCS is protecting the environment through intentional and observable stewardship practices. According to the World Steel Association, the construction industry is the single-largest global consumer of resources and raw material. Furthermore, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, about 40% of solid waste in the U.S. is derived from construction and demolition. As the millennial generation and beyond become increasingly engaged in environmental awareness, then intentional, visible and communicated commitments to recycling, waste reduction and environmental awareness becomes more than a social issue. It becomes a workforce issue. Innovations and approaches have changed the environmental impact of our industry sector. However, if new approaches are not visible or communicated, how can these changes be reflected in the public’s opinion?

What can we learn from an organization that has been working to change the public perception of the construction sector for more than a decade?

  • First and foremost, working at a grassroots level is a must. There is nothing federal, state or local government can do that will ever be more effective than telling our own story. That story should be told to every ear that will listen, especially our youth.
  • Second, seeing is believing. Industry perceptions change when people see the unexpected. How are you making yourself visible to your community? What do you look like from the curb? How are you inviting your community in to take a closer look?
  • Lastly, what is your stewardship story, and how are you leveraging it to appeal to the generations of potential workers who want to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful than just a job?

If you have ideas, or if you need ideas on getting involved in your community, please reach out to me at jdavis@aem.org. For more information on the Considerate Constructors Scheme, go to https://www.ccscheme.org.uk/ccs-ltd/code-of-considerate-practice-2/.

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