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The power of Generation Y

Published on: 14 May 2010
Nottingham Trent University students from the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment in a field trip in Prague
Nottingham Trent University students from the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment in a field trip in Prague

When will this industry recognise that the future rests with the next generation?

Latest forecasts suggest growth will return in 2012, buoyed by the amount of infrastructure work in the pipeline. Furthermore, we will need to deliver an 80% cut in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. So, with long-term demands changing, it is future skills we should be concentrating on.

We are, for instance, likely to need social scientists to work with strategic urban planners, so sustainable societies are created through development. We may need occupational psychologists to ensure assets are built to support the way we work and live. We will certainly need sustainability professionals to work with manufacturers to ensure cost-effective products are generated for the domestic market.

Yet we do not have a co-ordinated plan to attract, develop and retain the next generation of individuals that will provide these capabilities. This is our chance to showcase the unparalleled opportunities for prosperous careers in construction to school leavers and graduates. Whatever your background, interest or area of specialism, there should be a home in our industry.

Indeed, the future of your organisation may depend on attracting a new generation. So, how should you go about it?

Read the market, attract graduates early on, recognise their unique skills

First, read the market. Where will your organisation be in 2020, 2030 or even 2050? On the periphery or at the heart of change?

Once this is established, you need to attract as many school leavers and graduates as you feasibly can. Recognise the diverse range of skills that will be needed in the future. Even if, in the current economic situation, you have to offer work placements or internships instead of permanent work, harness their energy by showing them what could lie ahead.

Once you have these people on board, develop them adequately. Invest more than ever in providing them with the relevant skills and tools they will need in the future. This is not just about making them into chartered professionals; it’s about ensuring they develop a rounded, society-centric attitude towards the built environment.

It’s also about connecting them with like-minded peers in every part of the industry. This is the reason that G4C, the arm of Constructing Excellence for young professionals, was formed. To assist in its aims, collaboration is required between businesses, universities and institutions to provide training for our next generation.

This new generation can then work with senior members of your business, to plan and implement the steps necessary to adapt your business for the future. At Turner & Townsend there is a “chairman’s group”, which has a direct link into the chairman and executive board. The group’s remit is to explore the changes needed to allow the business to capitalise in the future. This is a fantastic blueprint for how to engage and harness the next generation.

It is the next generation that has the hunger and passion to operate at the forefront of this industry. Ryerson University has undertaken research that identifies some of the characteristics of generation Y – they include being less tolerant, craving learning, being socially and relationship orientated and having a global perspective, while wanting an exciting, fast paced environment in which to work. These sound like just the character traits a more client-centric, solutions-driven industry needs.

So although the economic storm clouds continue to linger, try to spend some time thinking about the longer term. This industry needs a plan; it needs transformation and perhaps most importantly, it needs the next generation at its heart. Harness them, develop them, and your business may profit.

David Whysall is associate director of infrastructure in Turner & Townsend and chair of G4C.