From overlooked to in demand: making the trades more tempting

The construction and infrastructure workforce is facing many challenges right now. Skilled people are starting to leave the industry, either to move to other industries or to go overseas, and the workforce is ageing. It’s clear that we need to work on making the trades more tempting.

We’ve recently undertaken a research project focused on perceptions of industry roles across the sector that offer variety and opportunity for workers from all walks of life. The research sought to understand what people currently know about the career opportunities within these industries and what participants viewed as an ‘ideal job’. One perception our research confirms is that few people are considering trades as an attractive career choice right now and we need to understand how to change that to secure top future talent.

For previous generations, the trajectory for academic achievers was often directed towards professions like medicine, education, or law. Conversely, those who didn’t reach high academic standards were often steered towards vocational trades or retail positions. While these were simpler times, the landscape has evolved, offering diverse opportunities. In order to confront prevailing misconceptions and bridge the skills gap, our focus has shifted towards investigating methods to entice both recent graduates and career switchers towards the fields of Construction and Infrastructure. To understand and address the misconceptions and skills gap issue, we researched how to attract school leavers and career changers into Construction and Infrastructure.

“One of the goals of this research is to discover those careers in construction and infrastructure that aren’t well known or preferred with an aim to promote these careers to parents and children,” explained Mark Williams, Waihanga Ara Rau, GM of Strategy and Insights, “the truth is potential STEM and other entrants may have misconceptions that are holding them back from entering these rewarding pathways.”

Overall, the research showed that the construction and civil infrastructure sectors are well-regarded, with most young adults recognising such careers’ credibility, respect, and financial benefits.  The issue, as seen already, is that these benefits are seen to come from difficult and costly qualifications.

Some other key findings are:

  1. Engineering jobs were more attractive to younger students and teenagers than construction and civil infrastructure.
  2. For people aged 26 to 44, jobs in construction, engineering and civil infrastructure were unattractive compared to jobs in other areas, such as business, law and government.
  3. Most people know little about construction or civil infrastructure careers.
  4. The most cited barrier to entering construction or civil infrastructure was lack of fitness or strength. However, for civil infrastructure, needing to improve in maths or science was a perceived barrier.
  5. Not being highly skilled in maths or science was cited as the main barrier to not entering design or engineering careers.

When it came to primary school-aged participants, most students felt they would need to study maths and statistics, followed by technology and science for design or engineering careers within the construction or civil infrastructure sectors. We need to change this perception in order to make the trades more tempting.