A second excellent Scholars Awards evening within a week was had by all at the Sir Ian Dixon Scholarships (SIDS) event at the Building Centre, in Store Street London. We explored the topic of “The UK’s Forgotten Youth” Training and employment opportunities in construction, otherwise known as “Not in Employment Education or Training” (NEETs) through the research of Anna Koukoullis, which she presented thoroughly and passionately. Anna’s presentation was followed by a high quality panel discussion where she was joined by Christine Townley, Kevin Mcloughlin MBE and Suzannah Nichol MBE, all equally passionate about attracting and educating young people in the construction Industry.
The event started with a good networking opportunity for company members, members of the CIOB, industry and government. Bob Heathfield then opened the evening as Chair of the WCC Scholarship and Awards Committee. Bob reminded us of the importance of these Scholarships to the Company and the significance such research can have in shaping our industry for future generations. Bob provided an overview of the scholarships programme and thanked co-sponsors the CIOB and Lady Valerie Dixon, with a special acknowledgement to Professor Bob Giddings who participates greatly on the reviewing committee. Lady Valerie was in attendance throughout the evening.
With a packed room, Graham Shaw MD of Willmott Dixon Interiors (WDI) introduced Anna and the positive impact she has had on the company’s social value performance, the numerous young people she mentors and through her role as Head of Social Value. Graham reflected on his time 25 years ago as a trainee at Willmott Dixon, meeting with both Sir Ian Dixon and Michael Latham who, ahead of their time, were also passionate about social value. He acknowledged the UK’s forgotten youth and the findings of the Social Mobility Commission – that middle class children are 80% more likely to find themselves in professional roles than those from poorer backgrounds. Graham also shared WDI’s concept of purpose beyond profit.
Anna then owned the floor for the next thirty minutes with a presentation performance that easily matched her opera-singing skills (enjoyed by many of our members at the Mansion House last year). Beginning with her journey from Receptionist to Head of Social Value, Anna shared many poignant facts; the UK’s 1m NEETs; our Industry’s ageing workforce (43% now over 45) and the need for 400,000 new entrants annually. Anna’s concern for the underprivileged was palpable and infectious. The audience was left in no doubt that this is an area requiring significant attention. Her rendition of a story in which a young man asked her to please help to find him a job otherwise he would end up “in prison or dead” struck a chord with all those in attendance. So what can we do? How can we help? Anna encouraged audience members to consider how they might be able to work together to encourage and sustain the employment of young people in the industry – young people from all socio-economic backgrounds. Anna encouraged listeners to consider how they might be able to avoid the indirect discrimination / unconscious bias of only employing graduates from reputable universities. The conclusion of Anna’s report and her recommendations to the industry, was summarised in 5 words – ENGAGE, ATTRACT, RECRUIT, RETAIN, SUSTAIN. Her full paper will shortly be available for download here.
The panel discussion that followed was extremely engaging. With plentiful questions arising from the audience and ideas circulating as to how the industry can collaborate to address this issue, whether by lobbying government, investing in vocational training or educating SMEs – the take home message was clear – we need to work together. There are clearly pockets of excellence – Kevin Mcloughlin’s Painting and Decorating Company K&M, WDI, Build UK, various technical colleges and the endeavours of people like Anna. But there is still such long way to go – until we are all working together, these forgotten 1m NEETs will continue to lose out and the numbers will only increase.
In closing proceedings, we heard from past master Richard Rooley, Mark Beard the Vice President of the CIOB and our own Master, Mike Parrett, who amused the audience by referring to himself as an aged NEET! Between them it was clear that Anna’s sentiments are shared by all and that her research will not be in vain. Mike expressed that he would be sharing Anna’s report with the Construction Industry leaders in Hong Kong and that this would not be the end of the matter.
Bob gave the final address and together with Lady Dixon presented Anna with her SIDS award. This was to be Bob’s last presentation of the SIDS award after over 12 years chairing the Scholar’s Committee. He noted with pride that he has seen over 50 scholars successfully complete their research into varying issues of importance and interest in the industry to obtain this prestigious award. He thanked the audience and the company for a wonderful tenure and fondly recalled past scholars and awards, but his final word and heartfelt thanks went to Anna, for allowing him to end on a high, with one of the best presentations he had had the benefit of attending.