How to start a career in construction in the UK

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The construction industry in the UK has been facing a skills shortage in recent years, which is in part due to a decreasing intake of apprenticeships and trainees in construction. This is set to continue as the construction industry is predicted to grow by 2.5% every year between now and 2021. In order to offset the negative effects of the skills shortage and help meet the demands of the industry, there needs to be a focus on recruitment into the construction industry and part of this involves ensuring the industry is an attractive career option. With the building of new homes, an increase in infrastructure projects, such as HS2, and other public and private projects on the horizon, there has never been a more vital time to consider a career in construction. Construction is an appealing career to people of all ages and from all sectors of society; there is a job for anyone with the right skills and/or qualifications. Entry level tradespeople earn competitive rates of pay and there is a clear structure for progression. For example, an entrant as a labourer could progress right up to site manager with further training and/or qualifications. With a wide variety of jobs available, long-term career prospects are usually good. Many large firms have advanced apprenticeship schemes offering craft, technical, and operative positions. Self-employment is also a realistic option for experienced tradespeople. It is estimated that around 12% of the workforce is self-employed.

1.1. Overview of the construction industry in the UK

The construction industry has a number of professional/managerial posts. This can range from project planning, coordination of complex construction activities, monitoring and controlling site works, and professional roles such as architects, surveyors, and engineers. These types of roles are significantly important and add value to the industry. They are seen as ways of steering people away from what is perceived as a lower skilled job. The future of the construction industry has growing demands for professionals and managers to be competent in various areas. IT skills are seen as becoming increasingly necessary, and the management of people and complex situations requires a certain set of skills.

The construction industry is a broad term. It covers an incredibly wide range of work. This can be anything from the demolition and clearance of an area to site preparation, building new houses or flats, road and bridge work, and renovating existing buildings. Some try to specialize in certain areas, whereas others like to take a bit of everything.

The construction industry is a major contributor to UK PLC. It has a 10% share of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product, employing 1 in 10 of the UK workforce. Though the industry has seen some turbulent times in recent years, the increasingly complex demands for construction services, the changing nature of the work, and the rising stakeholder demands, the industry needs to develop a greater focus and competence in how construction projects are undertaken.

1.2. Importance of a career in construction

The range of skills and competencies required in the construction industry is wide and varied. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills identified key areas of strength for the UK construction sector: the ability to lead and manage, design and planning, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), specialised and new construction techniques and ICT. The industry provides many opportunities for career development, and with increased demand for sustainability and innovation, there will be increasing potential for training and development in new areas. A construction manager is responsible for the overall success of a project, and requires a mixture of technical skill and business knowledge. A project manager will usually have qualifications in the form of HNC/HND or a degree. Site managers and supervisors oversee construction on-site, and will have usually worked their way up through the trades. Tradesmen are skilled workers who specialise in a particular craft, and are the backbone of the construction industry. Finally, there are many professional and technical roles in areas such as surveying, design, and health and safety. Working in construction, an individual can move upwards into more senior roles, or change roles to manage projects in different sectors. With increasing globalisation, the UK qualifications are recognised in many overseas markets, providing opportunities for working abroad. Overall, there is no shortage of opportunity for a rewarding and successful career in construction.

Construction is one of the UK’s largest industries and has a huge impact on our society. It is responsible for around 8% of the UK’s GDP, employing around 2.5 million people. There are a few separate sectors within the construction industry, but all play a very large role in the economy. Housebuilding is one of the most obvious sectors, producing shelter for the population. It is an indicator of the health of the economy, as if the economy is doing well people will have more disposable income, and thus there will be greater demand for houses. Conversely, construction work will dry up if the economy is doing badly. Housebuilding is about 5-10% of the construction industry overall, and has been the best performing sector in recent years. Building construction is the process of adding structure to real property. The vast majority of building construction jobs are small renovations, such as addition of a room, or renovation of a bathroom. Often, the owner of the property acts as labourer, paymaster, and design team for the entire project. Industrial construction is a much smaller sector but is of huge importance. High value plants such as refineries and power stations require specialist knowledge and are often built by specialist construction companies.

2. Education and Training

Essentially, the construction industry is not purely trade qualification based, and there are many professionals that have come into their respective roles through varied means of training and education. Understand what is required for your desired career, and plot a course to get there. Taking the right steps now will save you from having to backtrack later on in your career.

So before you start to dig in and look at different training options, it is vitally important that you understand what your true goals are within the industry. You need to gauge an understanding of which roles stand more appeal to you, and the qualifications or requirements that are associated with that role. For example, if you are looking to head down the project management route, quite often the experience and qualifications required are more vocational/degree based. If you are looking to become an electrician within the construction sector, vocational training and specific trade qualifications will be your best route to entry.

To train with this form of construction discipline, individuals will need to have developed certain mindsets and psychological attributes that enable them to work as competent and professional individuals. The construction industry is quite a varied entity, and success cannot be pinned to a singular concept or approach. Individuals need to be able to adapt and diversify their skill sets, leading to success through different avenues and iterations of hard work. Determination, a clear understanding of the industry and its different phases, and a strong work ethic are key attributes that should be inherent in a budding construction professional.

2.1. Types of qualifications required

Construction has historically been an industry where training is often given on the job, although this is becoming less frequent due to the increasing complexity of the industry. Even when training was given on the job, there has usually been an informal assessment of a worker’s skills or competence. This has often taken the form of experienced workers passing on their skills and knowledge to trainees, or workers being asked to demonstrate their skills or being observed in a genuine work environment. This approach has frequently meant that theoretical knowledge has been neglected, and it has sometimes been difficult to assess the abilities of workers who have received no formal training. The result of this has been that it has often been difficult for workers to progress to higher skill levels and into more technical or supervisory roles. NVQs were introduced as a national system of vocational qualifications and are designed to assess the competence of a worker in a work situation. This type of assessment is ideal for construction, and it provides a means for workers to gain recognition of their skills. NVQs are available at various levels, and there are NVQs for both craft and operative workers and technical or supervisory workers. An SVQ is the Scottish equivalent of an NVQ. Diplomas are similar to NVQs and are also a well-recognized type of qualification at a similar level.

The type of qualification will differ depending upon the type of work you want to get into. For craft or operative jobs such as bricklayer, it is likely that an NVQ or SVQ in a relevant area will be required. For technical or supervisory jobs, a higher level qualification may be needed, such as an HNC/HND or a degree. Entry to a degree course with 2-3 A levels is usually required, although previous experience in the industry and/or a relevant NVQ can be an alternative route. Higher level qualifications are becoming increasingly more sought after for a wider range of construction jobs. This is due to the demand from employers for continuing improvement to the professional skills and knowledge of their workforce. Different employers in the construction industry may have different entry requirements, and these can vary depending on the level of responsibility of the job.

2.2. Apprenticeship programs

Apprenticeship programs are particularly popular in the United Kingdom, as it is one of the few countries that continue to use the apprenticeship system in the construction industry. It is a vocational program which combines academic learning alongside on-the-job training. Apprentices are employed in a trade and work alongside experienced staff to gain job-specific skills. This usually includes attending a college in order to gain a qualification. This is the most common path into the construction industry as it provides a salary alongside the gaining of valuable industry relevant skills. There are no specific entry requirements to become an apprentice, however it is getting increasingly competitive to secure a place. Many employers are looking for some level of work experience and a good general understanding of construction processes. Offering work experience or completing an introductory construction course in college can help to get a foot on the ladder in this respect. Apprenticeships usually take between two to four years depending on the level of qualification that the apprentice is aiming to achieve. This can range from a basic craft-skills level up to a higher level which can include management training. High apprenticeship completion rates mean that this can be a very good way to start a construction career.

2.3. Vocational courses and certifications

A BTEC diploma course teaches specific roles in the construction industry, such as quantity surveyors or architecture. These courses can take up to two years to complete and also have diplomas in construction management. BTEC courses can also lead onto degrees. With the current economic climate, employers will want higher standard employees, and these types of courses will benefit the individual greatly.

City and Guilds also offer a course in specific trades. This is more theory-based with practical elements. This can take a minimum of a year to complete, with the possibility of further education by moving onto a higher diploma. Higher diplomas from these courses can enable people to take a degree in construction management.

Vocational courses provide hands-on experience and are offered in some local schools. City and Guilds offer a course called Basic Skills in Construction, which is a practical-based course with most learning being carried out in a workshop. This type of course is aimed at people who have just left school, helping them gain basic skills to pursue a career.

3. Building Skills and Experience

An important requirement when starting a career in construction in the UK is gaining experience and developing the skills to be able to apply for a job. This is different to ‘acquiring qualifications’. ‘Academic qualifications’ in construction are numerous and range from GCSEs in subjects like construction and the built environment and construction and the built environment GNVQs, to HNCs, HNDs and degrees in construction and related subjects. Many of these qualifications are aimed at school leavers or people already working in construction and there is much information available for those seeking these qualifications, both on paper and online. On the other hand, ‘trade qualifications’ are still essential for employment in a trade. ‘Trade qualifications’ refer to learning a trade by gaining experience in that trade and/or by attending college alongside working. Visit the CITB (Construction industry training board) website for more information on education and qualifications in the construction industry. An apprenticeship is the primary way to achieve ‘trade qualifications’ and become skilled. Traditional apprenticeships have been replaced by modern apprenticeships which involve a mix of traditional apprenticeship training and NVQs. There are modern apprenticeships within many trades and for all ages and are generally provided by training organisations. For those already in employment, it is possible to do an NVQ in the trade they are working, giving them a nationally recognised qualification of their skills. Highly experienced workers may also tackle higher level NVQs and SVQs. Also, ‘trade qualifications’ can often be achieved through college courses. Find information on education and training in the construction industry, including how to fund it, on the directgov website.

3.1. Practical skills development

There are 3 different ways to learning the practical skills to apply within the construction industry and realize a trade qualification. One method is the traditional route of on-the-job training, learning from experienced tradespeople and working alongside skilled workers, learning the trades firsthand. This route is best suited for school leavers or those looking to change careers where they are financially able to commit to learning a trade, working for low wages or as a laborer. While the first of the 3 methods provides a higher likelihood of securing a job, it is quite difficult for older individuals with financial obligations to learn a new trade with low income.

Learning a practical trade such as construction is best achieved through practical skills development. Individuals interested in starting a career in construction can consider learning skills on construction sites, through college/vocational training, through apprenticeship training programs, and through hands-on experience with family or friends in order to build a strong foundation of practical skills and knowledge. A combination of these methods is the best way to develop skills that will prove useful in a construction career. The solid theoretical knowledge along with practical skill in how to apply the knowledge is what employers in today’s construction industry are looking for. Learning practical skills will give individuals confidence and an edge over inexperienced competitors when it comes time to seek employment.

3.2. Gaining experience through internships and work placements

With the increasing popularity of construction-based degrees, internships are an essential way of gaining work experience for construction management and technology students. The importance of taking part in an internship can often lead to a better paying job upon graduation. It is also helpful in aiding students to decide what area of construction might be best for them and to network with potential employers for future careers. Student internships and work-study programs offer students in construction management and construction technology an opportunity to gain practical experience in field and office positions related to their discipline. Many colleges offer academic credit for structured work experience. The duration of the internship is relatively short, typically three to four months, requiring a willingness to work on most any phase of the project life cycle. The internship experience helps prepare students for their job search and acquisition of full-time employment in the construction industry. It is often helpful to participate in an internship after the junior year or during a break period while attending college. This is particularly helpful for students who wish to work for larger construction companies. The larger companies often use the internship experience as an extended interview for a coveted entry-level position in their company. Oftentimes, if the student has performed well as an intern, a full-time job offer will be extended during or following completion of the program.

3.3. Volunteering in construction projects

Volunteering allows you to give your time and expertise unpaid to help an organisation, a community or the environment. The construction industry offers a range of opportunities for volunteers to get involved and help to build a better future. From being a skilled volunteer helping to train offenders in construction skills, to getting your hands dirty on a local building project to provide a community facility, the options are endless. This experience can be highly rewarding and a great way to put something back into society. It can also open doors to new career opportunities and be a valuable addition to your CV. Skilled volunteers can make a very significant difference to an organisation working in the construction sector. For example, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) wouldn’t be able to run many of its regional training programmes without the help of volunteer craftspeople and builders. Political lobbying organisations, for example those working on sustainable development or housing issues, are often in need of volunteers with skills and experience in the built environment sector. Working as a skilled volunteer can sometimes lead to a paid role within the same organisation. For example, one of CIOB’s Education and Student Committee members started helping at CIOB education events on a voluntary basis and was later offered paid work to help develop our current student membership offer. This kind of opportunity is common for skilled volunteers working in the third sector.

4. Job Search Strategies

– Focus on the “Career Objective” – This is often the first thing that an employer will read, so ensure that you include a strong and ambitious aim within this section. Make sure that your resume is no longer than 2 pages and that it is succinct and well laid out. – Selling Yourself – Use the resume as an opportunity to market yourself to a prospective employer. Make sure that you highlight key achievements and experiences in each job role and how this has contributed to the quality and timely delivery of a project. – Tailor your resume to suit a particular role with a specific company. Highlight experience which is relevant to the position you are applying for, to ensure that the employer can see the correlation between your previous experience and the role on offer. A useful tip is to find out as much as possible about the job being offered and the company that is offering the position. And lastly, always include a covering letter with the resume. – Effective networking can be a very useful tool in the job search process. There are a large number of jobs in the construction industry which are not advertised. These positions are often filled through word of mouth as well as internal promotion. Employers would rather employ someone who has been recommended to them by a colleague as this is often seen as a more reliable source of recruitment. By networking and making an enquiry with a company whether a job is available or not, it shows initiative, ambition, and willingness to work by the prospective employee. This can sometimes lead to an interview being created where there are no current vacancies. Step 4 can then be enforced, which may result in the creation of a new role within the company. – Online job portals are now an ever increasingly popular form of job advertising in today’s world. Construction jobs are not exempt from this trend, with the likes of Monster, MyBuilder, and Reed all offering a range of construction positions. Other websites include specific construction and engineering agencies which cater for a large range of positions from trades jobs to professional jobs and roles. – Recruitment agencies are a useful method for job search as they can source multiple job opportunities at once. A recruitment consultant is able to find jobs directly suited to your skills and experience and also has the ability to promote you to a prospective employer if they believe you are a viable candidate for a job. This may open up opportunities which you may not have been able to find yourself through other methods.

4.1. Building a strong resume

When it comes to building a strong resume, you have to mention everything you have done before with clarity. Ensure your resume is precise and to the point. It is also said that the way you present your resume also helps employers to examine your qualities. Before you start writing your resume, make sure you have researched and found out what employers look for in an employee and the necessary qualifications for obtaining a certain job. Once you have found out what employers want, you can then start listing your qualities, attributes, and work experience to match the criteria specified by employers. This increases the chance of getting yourself a job in the construction field. If you do not meet the standards, you may have to obtain certain qualifications required for a particular job. Another method of creating a powerful resume is by attaching an impressive cover letter to the resume. A cover letter serves as a formal introduction to the employer. This explains your intentions clearly and the reasons for your application to the particular company. In this case, you want to show the employer that you are the right candidate for the job and that you are the type of person they are looking for. Addressing the employer directly and telling them about your skills and work experience greatly increases your chance of getting employed.

4.2. Networking in the construction industry

Building a strong resume is the first step in the job search process, and while it is a vital part of finding any job, this section will give you necessary information tailored towards finding a construction job. A resume can be described as a self-advertisement and should be thought of as a tool to sell yourself to a prospective employer. Throughout the resume, it is important to remember to focus on transferable skills and avoid listing tasks performed at past jobs. Start by creating a brief profile summarizing your experience and what you can bring to a potential employer. Following the profile, create a section that lists your skills and abilities. In this section, try to avoid simple bullet-pointed lists, instead demonstrate how you have utilized these skills in past employment and how those skills were beneficial. For example, if you have good leadership skills, it would be good to mention that you have previously supervised teams or managed projects. After your skills, list your employment history, including a brief job description and what skills were utilized. Finish the resume with a brief education history (no more than a few lines) and a section listing interests and hobbies. Networking is a fundamental job search strategy, as the phrase goes “It’s not what you know, but who you know” and this is certainly the case within the construction industry. The vast majority of construction jobs are never advertised and are filled through word of mouth and contacts. This is due to the potentially high cost of taking on new employees, so employers would rather hire someone who is known to be reliable and competent. There are many ways to network and many opportunities, so it is wise to always be prepared. Creating and maintaining business cards can be a good way to make sure contact details are quickly and professionally exchanged and remembered. Always be prepared to talk about your work experience and skills as you may well meet potential employers in social situations. Consider joining clubs or societies that are related to the construction industry as these can be a good way to meet people who may have job opportunities. Attending trade shows, events, and exhibitions can be an excellent way to network and can provide valuable information and job leads. There are many exhibitions held throughout the UK that cover all areas of the construction industry from architecture to building materials. After you have made initial contact with some potential employers, it is important to follow up with them and maintain these contacts. Opportunities can arise at any time and employers may not remember to contact you if it has been a long time since you last spoke to them.

4.3. Online job portals and recruitment agencies

There are many web-based job portals where you can look for construction jobs and upload your CV. Most sites allow you to set up an email job alert, and this can be a useful way to be notified of relevant jobs as soon as they are advertised. It is likely that large companies will advertise on the general job websites, such as Indeed, Total Jobs and CV Library. For construction-specific roles, you may wish to try the Construction Jobs Portal. Agencies such as Hays and Randstad often have a large number of vacancies at any given time and their websites are well worth a look. Finally, you can use the government’s Universal Jobmatch website, which is a good resource for information about employers and salary expectations, and can help to identify skill gaps which you may need to fill in order to secure a job. In construction, the use of recruitment agencies varies widely between trades. As a general rule, if you are looking for a white collar job you are likely to find that there are many agencies with relevant vacancies. To find the best agencies for your role you may need to spend some time researching and making phone calls, but most agencies will now expect you to apply for jobs through their website. If you are looking for a blue collar job such as a tradesperson, labourer or site operative, there are likely to be far fewer relevant vacancies on general job websites and agencies are likely to be your best resource. In either case, it can be a good idea to make a speculative application to set the wheels in motion.

5. Interviews and Selection Process

Industry-specific questions may include one or more technical exercises. These can vary drastically depending on the job and can range from a simple Q&A session to a full written test. If little information is given on the nature of these exercises, it is perfectly reasonable to ring up and ask for some hints on what to expect. This may also make you stand out to the employer as an enthusiastic candidate.

As with any job interview, you are likely to be asked questions which are designed to probe your strengths and weaknesses and offer an insight into your overall character. A typical question in this category may be “What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?” or “Tell us about a time when you had to work as part of a team.” It is easy to speculate on the potential questions and ideal answers for these. The key is to use specific examples from past experience to demonstrate your abilities.

Common interview questions can be split into two basic categories. These are standard questions that assess your personal attributes and competencies, and those specific to the industry and the job.

Presentation is vital to make a positive impact. It is important to dress appropriately and bring relevant documentation like qualifications and industry cards. Punctuality is equally important. Plan your journey, making sure you know exactly where you are going and who you are seeing. Allow plenty of time to get there, and if possible, do a trial run a day or two before.

Preparing for construction job interviews can be scary and nerve-racking. Your best bet is to prepare well beforehand. Find out as much as possible about the company, the project, and the interview format. This research will help in understanding their business and allow you to consider how you can contribute.

5.1. Preparing for construction job interviews

At the job interview, the information search continues with the candidate seeking any information that may not be publicly disclosed. It is also mandatory that the candidate has accurately completed biographical information on education and work history to allow any further selection methods to be utilized if the candidate is still interested in the job after the interview. This can include another interview to clarify information, checking references, or more testing methods.

The primary goal of an interview is to develop a realistic job preview for the candidate and the interviewer. This is transacted in one stage in the construction job interview due to the nature of the job. This must start with the interviewee making an informed decision to apply for the job after assessing information that is available about the job and company. This company information can be found on the CITB website, company annual reports, company websites, careers services, job centres may have specific information, better business bureau, and consultancies. The company can also aid the candidate in making an informed decision by ensuring that information provided on the job is complete and accurate, preferably in written form and by a person with knowledge of the job and company.

Until recent times, interviews have not been a particularly useful method for selection of blue-collar and manual workers, relying on biographical information or personal contacts/referrals of such workers. However, things are changing. With less emphasis being potentially placed on biographical information in an interview, but still mindful that it needs to be combined with other selection methods such as checking references and assessment centres, the construction job seeker still needs to adopt the right mindset and preparation to perform successfully at the interview.

5.2. Common interview questions and how to answer them

Now’s the time the interviewer wants to see if you really want the job and have a passion for it. “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” If you applied for a graduate job, they want to know that you will stay on and progress through the company. This is a crucial time to show your enthusiasm. If your interviewer sees that you’re not sure if you will stay on the job list gets smaller. A generic answer is to always state that you want to progress into a higher job role, taking on more responsibilities and implementing changes. This will never be a negative answer. “What motivates you?” This needs to be work-related and always relate past actions to future successes.

A popular question to ask is “Why did you apply for this job?” Making sure you have done your homework and thorough research on the firm should help you to answer this. Try and link the job and the skills required to past actions and achievements. For example, “I have noticed that the role requires someone who can remain calm under pressure and work efficiently in a team environment. These are traits that I have developed from playing various team sports in the past, and I can demonstrate this from a scenario of when this has happened.” Always give situations where you have done this in the past. With very similar context, you may be asked “What can you bring to the company?” Always use your past and the skills you have developed to justify how these will make a positive impact in the future. This is your chance to link your future with your past.

Your interviewer may begin by asking you to highlight your personal attributes. For example, “What are the three things your friends don’t know about you?” or “Explain three weaknesses and values in brief?” This is a great opportunity to talk about all those fantastic attributes detailed in your CV and tell them how these attributes have helped you achieve. If you are asked to explain weaknesses, always highlight the value at the end and explain it to be a positive outcome. A weakness perceived may not be seen as a threat in certain circumstances. For example, one candidate’s weakness was explained as “I work too hard, which causes me to stress out.” This is an obvious positive weakness.

These are the common interview questions, but the first introductory ones are about you. The interviewer wants to know you and your past actions. Let’s give a brief idea on how many common type questions.

5.3. Selection criteria and assessment centers

Assessment centers are often used in order to avoid hiring the wrong person for the job. They are more commonly used in recruiting graduates and involve various tests and interviews. These can be anything from psychometric testing to group exercises that are designed to observe the thought processes used when working through a task. They also offer the chance for the candidate to meet potential colleagues and see what the work is like, leading to a better understanding of the job role and whether it is what they are looking for. At the end of the assessment, a decision can be made as to whether the candidate is suitable for the job, and if they have stood out amongst other candidates they may even be offered the job there and then.

Selection criteria and assessment centers are often used to filter the many job applicants down to the best candidates. These are normally candidates who have a real interest in the company and who have performed well at the assessment. One of the main ways in which employers select potential employees is through the use of selection criteria. These are individual components of the potential employee that the employer feels are necessary in order to fulfill the role. Often they are listed in the job advertisement, and there is a need for evidence that the applicant does indeed possess these criteria.

6. Career Paths and Specializations

Building surveyor: Building surveyors provide professional advice on all aspects of property and construction. Surveyors offer a wide variety of services including design, development and maintenance of buildings. They also assess building defects and dilapidations, and work on the restoration and conservation of old or modern buildings. This is relatively a flexible and varied career with opportunities in private practice or working in the public sector. It is also possible to specialize in one particular area such as residential housing, or public property.

Building services engineer: Building services engineers are responsible for the design, installation, operation and monitoring of the technical services required in buildings to ensure these services function effectively, efficiently and safely. This includes the design of intelligent controls and meters. At the forefront of the renewable energy and sustainability agenda, they also design systems that use renewable energy (e.g. solar), low energy technologies and energy recovery from industrial processes.

Architect: The architect is responsible for designing the building (or other structure) in conjunction with the client’s needs and the prevailing construction regulations. In order to do this, they will work closely with the client to understand their needs, develop design proposals (often using computer aided design), and prepare drawings, specifications and other documents for the construction of the building. The architect will also coordinate a team of consultants (e.g. structural engineers and building services engineers), and will be responsible for monitoring the work on site to ensure it is being built according to the design.

6.1. Different roles and positions in construction

There are many different roles within the construction industry. These roles range from those that require very little training, such as a labourer, to high level professions such as architects and engineers. For many people, the first role in construction will be a general labourer. This requires the least amount of training; often none at all. The main tasks of a labourer are cleaning and preparing a work site, loading and delivering materials and using a variety of machinery. Many people use this as a starting point before specializing in a certain field. Other roles include various trades, usually learned through apprenticeships. These include bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and plumbers/heating engineers. Contrary to popular belief, many of these trades can be well paid, especially for those who are self-employed. However, it can be a struggle to find work during a recession, especially for apprentices. This can sometimes mean changing employers frequently to gain more experience in a variety of tasks. It is often beneficial to work for small building companies, as you will have to undertake a wider range of tasks, as opposed to specializing in one task in a larger company.

6.2. Specializations within the construction industry

Specializations within the construction industry. There are a number of specializations to choose from and these are often dictated by the route you take for your skill or profession. Having said this, there are opportunities to change between specializations, particularly at management level where a good all-round knowledge of construction is required. Probably the most obvious career path in construction is that of a site tradesperson. Generally, people change to a special skill too early on in this stage to be simply called a builder. They may have trained to become a bricklayer, plumber, roofer, etc. The next step up from this is site supervision where the main responsibilities are to ensure work is running smoothly, safely and on time as well as doing workforce management and detailed planning of tasks. This is a highly practical job with less demand for paperwork and is more managerial than the previous roles. Depending on which trade a person specializes in, they may progress to become self-employed and subcontract their services to major building firms. The pinnacle of a tradesperson’s career is to become a site agent. This is the man in charge of a building site, its workers, its contracts, and the job as a whole. He has complete responsibility and his job is to make decisions which result in the job being done on time, within budget, and to a good standard. There are a variety of other careers at different levels of specializations in construction. Civil engineering involves the construction of major building works and is a wide field of its own, structural engineers work with the design of buildings and often have their own specializations, surveyors are highly analytical and are involved in the assessment of land, property, and construction feasibility, facilities managers are responsible for keeping a finished building running and maintained. The construction industry is constantly growing and changing. New technologies are being introduced and global issues have increased the impact of sustainability and legislative controls within the construction industry. This brings many new opportunities and more specializations will continue to emerge. A career in construction can be challenging, rewarding, and there is always something new to learn.

6.3. Advancement opportunities and career progression

Progression to a professional occupation is another means of career advancement. Within the construction industry, there are a number of professional careers. Construction managers may look to improve their skills and undertake further study to become chartered builders. Likewise, a civil engineer may apply to become an incorporated or chartered engineer through the Institution of Civil Engineers or try to specialize further, for instance in highway engineering, and take an appropriate vocational qualification to open up that career path. With a clear and recognized framework for progression, individuals can now create long-term career plans and work steadily towards their ultimate goals. Employment in construction also offers the opportunity to work at a more senior or higher skilled level to a later age than many other sectors. This best practice is being shared by ConstructionSkills with other industries for the development of similar progression routes.

A variety of qualifications and experience have been gained with the progression of the apprenticeship framework. It is well structured and designed to ensure that candidates have the opportunity to advance their skills, undertake further learning and training, and ultimately enhance their career prospects within the construction industry. Traditionally, there has been little opportunity for civil engineering or building and surveying professionals to progress from vocational qualifications to honours degree level. Higher education provision has generally been targeted at young people prior to entry into the industry and away from those already in employment. The advanced and higher-level apprenticeships have changed this and, alongside the development of foundation and then honours degree provision within further education colleges and higher education institutions, there is now a clear career pathway right through from craft level to professional qualification. The apprenticeships are just one example of effective career progression. It is also an end in its own right, allowing stepped progression from one qualification to another without the need for the individual to always take a full course of study each time.

7. Health and Safety in Construction

Health and safety is important to the construction industry for several reasons. First and foremost, the human suffering and loss caused by accidents can never be adequately compensated for. Next, occupational injuries and illnesses carry a significant cost, not only to the individuals concerned, but also to the industry as a whole, due to loss of skills, low morale, and increased absenteeism. Construction is a high-risk industry, with a high accident rate. The sector comprises only 5% of employees, yet accounts for 27% of occupational fatalities and 10% of major injuries. Finally, statutory requirements and the likelihood of enforcement action, such as improvement or prohibition notices, or in more serious cases, prosecution, provide a powerful incentive to improve health and safety. This is especially true as the majority of clients are concerned about their legal liabilities and are also keen to project a responsible image. Clients directly employing construction workers have a duty to ensure their health and safety, in addition to contractors working for them. Self-employed workers have a duty to ensure their own health and safety. Failure to meet these duties may result in criminal prosecution.

As a worker, health and safety should be a top priority in any working environment. Good health and safety at work will ensure all workers, both skilled and unskilled, are safe from harm. Everyone has the right to expect to go home in the same condition they arrived.

7.1. Importance of health and safety regulations

Construction work often involves heavy manual labor which creates a risk of musculoskeletal injury. This work frequently requires considerable lifting and lowering, carrying and pushing or pulling of heavy items. The handling of materials has been noted as a most frequent cause of hand-arm vibration and can lead to the development of conditions such as hand-arm vibration syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome. The UK construction industry also has a high rate of work-related ill health. In 2007/8, it was estimated that 79,000 workers in the construction sector in Great Britain had an illness which was caused or made worse by their current or past work in construction. Around 22,000 of these cases were new conditions which started during the year. This represents a rate of 3,200 cases per 100,000 workers, a figure that is significantly higher than the average for all types of work. The most common types of disease in the construction industry are lung diseases from exposure to hazardous substances and respiratory sensitizers, skin conditions, noise-induced hearing loss, and conditions caused by repetitive work or awkward postures.

The nature of the construction industry makes it a potentially hazardous source of employment. The construction sector has a poor record for preventing occupational accidents and injuries. Many factors contribute to the hazardous nature of construction work, one of the most significant being the wide diversity of activities occurring within this sector. These activities often involve building work at new sites, or repair and maintenance work on existing sites. The transient nature of construction work means that workers can be working at a new site with unfamiliar conditions several times a year, often resulting in a lack of awareness of the specific hazards at the site.

7.2. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety procedures

Selecting the correct PPE to suit the hazard as far as possible is important. These hazards may include dust, impacts, chemical vapors, etc. Employers must do more than simply purchase on the employees’ behalf and issue it to them. They must ensure it is suitable for the intended use, it must be CE marked, and take into consideration the size of the protective equipment to fit the wearer. They must ensure all employees are informed and understand why they are wearing it and show how to use, store, and clean it. Regular maintenance and replacement of the equipment will prevent damage from continuing to use, and it can be expensive to keep replacing the same items due to carelessness and lack of supervision. This could also contribute to disciplinary action against the employee.

In most construction situations, there is a risk of injury in any given task. To combat this, employers must take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers, the general public, and site visitors. Accidents and ill health are the effects of failure to manage health and safety and can cause a huge amount of pain and suffering, which can include financial loss to the individual employer as well as the families involved. It costs less than the price of an accident or incident, and it can help you reduce the chances of regulatory action being taken against you. With three P’s in mind – payment, prevention, and protection – PPE is the least effective method of controlling health and safety risks. It will not prevent an accident or ill health, but it can reduce the severity of an injury or damage.

7.3. Reporting accidents and near misses

All accidents, no matter how small, should be recorded in an accident book. An accident is defined in the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1979 as a separate identifiable, unintended incident which causes physical injury. Therefore, accidents do not include assaults on employees unless the assault is the result of another accident. Near misses are potential health and safety incidents that did not result in injury or damage; some could have potentially been serious accidents if the circumstances were slightly different. Recording all accidents and near misses is important as it helps the employer to prevent future accidents by identifying root causes, and it also helps the employee to claim compensation if the injury results in a disease or impairment. Accidents and near misses should also be reported to the Health and Safety Executive if the employer has a legal duty to do so under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995. This involves reporting all work-related deaths, major injuries, or over seven-day injuries, work-related diseases, and dangerous occurrences. This information allows the HSE to prevent similar accidents occurring, and they may also investigate the accident and employer to ensure that health and safety legislation is being complied with. This is the only statutory duty surrounding accidents and near misses, and the employer is responsible for deciding on a reporting procedure. The decision should be to have a simple and efficient system, which is known to all employees and allows the facts to be recorded while they are still fresh.

8. Professional Development and Continuing Education

• Show commitment to a chosen career and increase the value placed on their skills. • Increase job mobility and effectiveness within the job. • Provide evidence of current competence for employers. • Result in personal satisfaction and better career prospects.

In today’s job market, we always need to stay abreast, refine, and expand our knowledge to get ahead and gain full opportunities. This is often true within the construction industry as the market is constantly changing. By having professional certification, you are informing potential employers that you are committed to staying successful and knowledgeable in your chosen career. Professional development is significant to staying successful in the ever-changing market and can help employees to:

Continuing education and professional certifications

8.1. Continuing education and professional certifications

Formal education and training can result in chartered status, which is highly valued by professional construction and surveying workers. Chartered status in Chartered Engineer, Chartered Construction Manager, and Chartered Surveyor can be gained with the right combination of education, training, and experience. Various routes and qualifications exist for each type of chartered status. Attaining chartered status is the pinnacle of achievement for a construction professional and usually results in better prospects and higher pay. Professional certifications can also be gained in specialist fields such as planning and project controls. These are usually offered by professional associations and require the candidate to sit and pass an exam to prove competency.

Mark Potter suggests that “postgraduate study provides a differentiator and therefore better prospects in the job market.” A master’s qualification is available in various construction and surveying specific fields and can be taken part-time over a number of years. In addition, research opportunities exist in a wide range of areas including project management, sustainable construction, and disaster reconstruction.

Continuing education and professional certifications are the most common means of professional development for construction and building surveying professionals. Through JIB agreements, trade guilds, and higher education institutions, a wide range of courses are available to provide education in specific areas of construction as well as general management skills. The Construction Industry Training Board offers a range of construction-based NVQs, as well as an HNC or HND in building and construction. For those who can attain it, degree-level education will not only open a door to teaching at further or higher education level, but it can also provide a means to move into a more specific field such as building surveying or project management.

8.2. Industry conferences and workshops

There has never been a time of greater opportunity for UK construction professionals to network with others in their field at conferences and workshops. The need to keep updated on new technologies and build techniques is crucial. Knowing this, industry conferences are designed to provide the most up-to-date information for construction professionals. They provide both speaker presentations as well as interactive seminars. This allows builders to ask questions and seek advice on any issues they may have encountered. Normally a conference will be focused on a particular sector of the industry but many are broad-based and offer something for everyone. The Construction Summit, hosted by the DTI and the Construction Industry Council, is an example of a conference that provides a broad base of information. Another conference, Build London Live, is an interactive event that focuses on demonstrating new technologies to construction professionals. An example of a seminar event would be the Housing LIN’s Savoir Beds Seminar. A list of conferences and seminars can be found at the Construction Industry Council’s website. Workshops are usually more focused and offer training skills. They are also an excellent way of networking with other professionals. One of the key limitations of attending conferences is the sheer amount of people that attend. This can make it difficult for small groups to meet up and network. Hertford Regional College, the action group for construction in Hertford, recently hosted a workshop to encourage the use of traditional building methods. Attendees were able to see the tools and methods in action and gained practical advice on how to use them. The event was aimed at specific groups involved in building conservation such as bricklayers and carpenters. Hertford Regional College has also started offering courses for experienced tradesmen. They recognize that on-site learning, while the mainstay for the industry, often does not suit the learning styles of individuals. The short courses offer a more comprehensive and concise way to learn new skills.

8.3. Staying updated with new technologies and trends

There are a few ways to keep updated with new technologies and trends in the construction industry. It is important to stay updated on new technologies because a failure to stay abreast of current developments may mean that a company is left behind, and equipment and methods can quickly become obsolete. The first starting point for those in the construction industry is to access information from the internet. Online resources such as the Construction Index, the Building and Construction Authority website and many others can be easily accessed and are often very cheap, if not free. Subscribe to industry journals or magazines can keep professionals regularly updated on new technologies. Many journals have moved to an online format, making them more accessible and less expensive. Visiting manufacturer’s websites of construction products and machinery can provide comprehensive information, videos and animations on the use and specifications of products. Networking and building relationships in the industry can help professionals access new information on technologies and trends. Personal relationships with other professionals, suppliers, manufacturers and technical experts can often provide information on new technologies. Developing and maintaining good relationships with suppliers and manufacturers can also provide opportunities for product demonstrations, technical seminars or training sessions. This can be a productive way of learning how to use new products and equipment. Attending manufacturer’s open days, industry seminars and technical presentations can also be beneficial. Trade specific exhibitions and trade fairs are another important way to stay updated with new technologies and trends. These events can provide a comprehensive overview of the latest products, trends and developments in the industry. Most exhibitions and trade fairs offer free entry to industry professionals, and being located in one place, can present a time efficient means of gathering information on new technologies.

9. Building a Professional Network

Building a positive relationship with colleagues and mentors can often open many doors and windows of opportunity in your career. The closer the relationship built with a colleague, the more likely they are to inform you of any potential job roles going in a competitor’s company where they have links, or possibly recruitment within their own company. A mentor can help to guide you and build up your strengths and weaknesses in order to progress in the sector. This guidance can lead to recommended roles from the mentor’s contacts, and often employers in high positions in the industry get notified of potential recruits.

Attending trade shows and indoor air quality training courses is a great opportunity to not only meet people but also to view the size of the industry and what opportunities there are in the local area or further afield. You will often come across employers advertising roles, and with your knowledge still in the early stage, these events can often lead to opportunities given your recent enthusiasm for the industry.

Joining professional associations and organizations is a good starting point towards building your network. Association meetings and events provide the opportunity to meet people in similar roles, share experiences, and learn from others. They often have listings of local members, and sometimes this may lead to a person who has been in the same situation as you and has some work to offer. Associations can also provide information on industry news and local events that may be a good opportunity to meet more people. Be mindful that associations often require a subscription fee, and this should be assessed whether it’s worth the investment with the potential rewards.

9.1. Joining professional associations and organizations

Here are some useful links to get you started: The Chartered Institute of Building, The Construction Industry Council, The Construction Confederation. Note that these are UK-based organizations. If you are looking to work in another country, it is probably best to find the relevant local organizations.

There are many professional associations and organizations that are focused on the construction and built environment sector. They are an excellent way to find out more about the industry, look for jobs, network with professionals, and generally progress your career. Many associations have student membership rates, and this can be a good way to start making the contacts who will help you secure your first job. Above all, professional organizations often have a wealth of resources on the industry, and this can be a boon for someone looking to boost their knowledge. The careers section of their websites often has job vacancy listings and advice on how to get into the industry.

9.2. Attending industry events and trade shows

Industry events and trade shows often create great opportunities for construction workers to learn about new methods and trends in the industry. Events are open to everyone and sometimes require a fee to attend. Fees can usually be covered by an employer if the worker suggests that the event will be good for the company. These events offer many different benefits including the ability to meet with suppliers, an opportunity to see the latest technology and products, and a chance to meet and talk with others in the same field (Heinz, 1999). Suppliers usually have the latest and greatest products on display, and they often offer free samples and demonstrations. This can be very helpful in the learning process, especially when workers are unfamiliar with new products. Seeing the products and how they are used first hand can give workers ideas about whether or not the products would be beneficial to use. Free samples can provide workers with the opportunity to try new products at no expense. This can be useful with products such as tools and safety equipment. If a product is determined useful, it gives workers the opportunity to directly purchase the product with knowledge that it will be useful to them. Meeting with others in the field at events can create various opportunities for construction workers. This can be useful for those looking for different job opportunities. Sometimes workers are dissatisfied with their current job and are looking for something new. Talking to others can let them know what’s out there. A worker might meet a general contractor in another area looking for skilled workers. Networking can also be useful for those looking to start something on their own. Throughout the years, SBE workers have utilized networking opportunities to team up with others and form successful construction companies.

9.3. Collaborating with colleagues and mentors

A new entrant to the industry can often feel isolated when trying to find a way to get involved in the industry, but this is not a matter of concern. The construction industry is one built on people, and everyone currently working in it has gone through what new starters are experiencing. To this extent, there are systems in place to help those starting out to make contacts which can often lead to job opportunities. The best way to start is through joining an agency. There are several job agencies in the UK for construction workers, and from using these services new entrants can often find short term employment which can be used as a way of getting some experience in industry, while starting to build a pool of contacts. The majority of recruitment in the construction industry does not take place through advertising jobs online or in newspapers, it is often said that it’s “who you know not what you know” and so a large percentage of job opportunities never get to the public domain. Step two as mentioned previously is undertaking a construction related course at college or university. Many institutions will have links with industry employers and often hold careers events within the department. From this students can get to meet employers and maybe arrange work experience or placements. This is an ideal opportunity to start building contacts. Finally, by attending industry events or trade shows, this can also be a way to meet people who are working in a specific area of construction, and can offer advice and information about how to get involved in that sector. Family and friends can also be a good source of contacts, and any construction work obtained via a personal connection can be a way to starting to build a network.

10. Entrepreneurship and Starting Your Own Construction Business

If you are still convinced that you want to start your own business and you feel that the market is right for the services that you can offer, the next step is to carry out more detailed market research to establish exactly who your customers are likely to be and what services will be most in demand. This information will really help you when it comes to making decisions about what areas of construction you should seek to specialize in and what type of business model you should aim to adopt. An additional benefit of such research is that it will increase your knowledge of the market before you enter it, which can help you to identify opportunities and avoid threats as your business grows in the future.

Before you do anything else, you need to ask yourself honestly whether you think you have the right personal qualities to run your own business. Once you have taken stock of your own character and abilities, you will then need to spend some time carrying out a realistic appraisal of the market to assess your chances of success. Starting a business can be a high risk strategy and many businesses fail within the first few years. The most important factor which will determine whether or not you will succeed is the demand for the product that you provide. So you really need to establish whether there is a viable market for your services and whether it is likely to grow in the future. It would not be a good idea to start a business if you can only see it providing short term profits.

Starting your own construction company can be an effective way of taking your career in construction into a completely new direction. However, before you make any decisions about what you want to do, you will need to do some exploratory work to establish whether entrepreneurship is a realistic option for you.

10.1. Steps to start a construction business in the UK

Once a decision has been made to start a construction business, the first step is to decide on what type of business to form. There are three main options. These are sole trader, partnership, and limited company. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. To operate as a sole trader is the easiest and cheapest way to set up. There is very little paperwork to complete, and it is easy to maintain control of the business. However, this option is very risky from a financial point of view. As a sole trader, there is unlimited liability, and so if the business fails, the owner could be held personally liable for all the debts it has incurred. The next option is to form a partnership. A partnership is much like a sole trader, but it involves two or more people running the business. A partnership has the same risks as a sole trader, the only difference being that the risk is divided amongst all the partners. The third and final option is to form a limited company. This is a complex procedure with a lot of paperwork involved, but in essence, the company becomes a separate legal entity from the owner. This means that the owner has limited liability, and so personal assets cannot be used to repay company debts. The majority of limited companies are set up to achieve tax advantages, and as this is a complex issue, we will make no further reference to it.

10.2. Legal and financial considerations for entrepreneurs

Having reached the decision that you would like to set up your own construction business, there are numerous legal and financial considerations which you need to take into account in order to ensure a successful venture. The first issue to consider is the legal status of your business. There are three main options: sole trader, partnership, and limited company. The decision you make will have implications in terms of income tax, National Insurance contributions, and the way in which you draw money from the business. It will also affect your financial liability and the way in which the business can raise capital. For most small businesses in the construction industry, the most appropriate legal status is that of a sole trader or partnership. Another important consideration is insurance. Given the high-risk nature of the construction industry, insurance costs can be a significant financial burden, so it is worth shopping around to explore the different deals on offer. The type of insurance required can vary depending on what you are doing and where. However, a standard requirement for any employer is employer’s liability insurance. Failure to take out adequate insurance can result in hefty fines or even a criminal prosecution.

10.3. Marketing and promoting your construction business

Another method of promoting your business is through involvement in your local community. Sponsorship of local sports teams, youth clubs, or church events is an effective way of getting your business noticed. A good way of gaining new customers is through holding raffles, where the donated prize could be a day’s free labor, up to a certain value, to the winner. With the continued decline of small local builders, it’s always good to keep an eye on the estate agents. Often, they want people to carry out work to add value to a property or to work on properties they have rented out. Try and develop a good relationship with a few agents, and there is likely to be lots of repeat business.

To achieve a good reputation and recommendation, you need to be able to demonstrate your work. At the beginning, this may involve doing jobs for friends and family at reduced rates. They will be your easiest critics, and you will rely on them for your initial recommendations. Try and use any work you have done by photographing it. It is sometimes a good idea to create example and ‘before and after’ portfolios. Later, you may get the opportunity to quote for smaller jobs on houses that are often rented or properties owned by estate agents. With permission, carry out the work to a high standard, and the likelihood is you could pick up a regular trade.

In the construction industry, recommendations and reputation are your key to trade. People are allowing you to work on their most expensive asset when they are not there. 90% of the time, the only evidence of your work will be what you leave behind. Like an artist, potential clients need to see evidence of your quality and workmanship before they will even consider hiring you. If you have a good reputation and a high recommendation rate, you will never be short of work; people will wait until you are available.