We live in a Built Environment. Vast networks of pipes and cables provide us water, heat and connectivity, buildings give us shelter and infrastructure allows us to connect supporting socio-economic markets. Water, Warmth, Shelter, Growth.
Our Built Environment is fragile. As we grow, how we choose to develop our spaces need to adopt a long-term sustainable approach supported by end-user awareness to inform evolving values and habits in a fast-paced technological age. Managing the Built Environment successfully requires knowledge, skills and experience – and a lot of it. As technology changes and becomes more advanced, Built Environment projects are being challenged to identify most appropriate technology to use and guesstimate how this might advance into in-use phases for the benefit of future generations.
Nationally, the emergence of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the past 25 years has increased the numbers of apprenticeships and undergraduates in the Built Environment, but current rates are not matching the forecast workload – and there is a need to consider specific skills development such as rail, energy and digital technology for new projects.
So where are we going to get all these new employees from?
One important area: Diversity.
Our industry is not diverse. Organisations would perform 15% better if they were gender diverse, and if everyone had an equal chance to job roles, this would add about £44bn to UK GDP. It is staggering to think that as an industry full of exciting opportunities, and contributing a vital role for future socio-economic development, we are struggling to recruit a diverse workforce. It is not just our industry that has a reputation for a lack of gender balance and a representation of BAME, but we are falling behind as others stand out and make examples of what diverse organisations can look like.
Senior leadership teams need to be proactive in taking action: clear policies on inclusion, training, flexible working, recruitment, procurement and wellbeing are required.
Middle management need to understand better the ability, skills and needs of their employees, both in and out of work, to position them in the roles that provide optimum productivity whilst challenging them, to keep them engaged and motivated, and importantly feel valued.
Individuals have an important role to play too: for some in the industry, a diverse workplace has rarely been seen. We need to make sure that we encourage diversity in our own environments, call out behaviour that does not contribute to an inclusive workplace, and be role models to show that exciting and successful careers can be had in the built environment.
A key strength of the built environment is that there are so many roles, skill sets and different areas in which to work. The sector is responsible for the design, construction and management of social spaces, buildings and infrastructure cognisant of future needs and to promote inclusivity. We cannot do that if the teams that are delivering this are not diverse themselves.