Future skills: Building a better built environment

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  • Future skills: Building a better built environment
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Sarah Draper


Sarah Draper


Perspective 2022 vol 2
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The skills required in our industry are evolving daily and with digitalisation, many jobs are now being replaced with more efficient ways of working.

However, unlike in other sectors, the built environment will always be dependent on people and as our industry takes the lead in constructing a better society, we will always need expert judgement, imagination and a balance of views, to continue to help us achieve our outcomes.

The need for future proofing

We live in a world where agility and adaptability are essential. However, our industry is one that is built on a 50-year change – where the foundations we lay down at the beginning of a build might take 50 years, or even longer to have an impact on its society and its surroundings. This means the next generation need to be even more agile in their thinking and be able to create buildings that are inclusive and adaptable not just for today but tomorrow. 

As our industry increases alignment with the communities it builds, so does the skillset we need to deliver these outcomes. So yes, it is about digital natives bringing their natural intuitiveness to technology into our world, and about process engineering and manufacturing for the future and understanding materials technology and nanotechnology. However, it is also about understanding carbon skills (not just sustainability), energy mitigation (how we use less) and whole life safety for buildings that show how these skills will add value to that building and the communities they live in over its lifetime. Critical to this understanding is the need for a workforce that is representative of those communities.

This is the next step change in our industry – to build more efficiently, to build with heart and to truly understand the impact of the built environment in the future.

Promoting the industry more widely

To ensure we have the right skillset as an industry requires lifelong learning. It is also about attracting those outside the traditional routes into the built environment. Showing them that construction has a purpose and a positive part to play in society, that it can help make a difference to the way we live, work and play. It’s having pride in our industry, passion about the positive impact our industry can have on the world, purpose to deliver social, environmental, and economic impact, professionalism within our skillsets and progression to creatively contribute to the changing world.

It is therefore imperative that, as employers, we create inclusive workplaces – the office, site, home or elsewhere – for all employees to be able to develop and grow. We must also look at how we attract people to the industry, whether that involves more active engagement with schoolchildren, people returning to work after parental leave or career break, refugees, or ex-service personnel. We need to create a welcoming and inclusive workplace for all.

We must open our industry so it is accessible and welcoming to the communities in which we work, so they can see themselves represented in the workforce. We need to demonstrate that inclusivity remains firmly at the top of our agenda as an industry. Like many employers, at RLB we strive to foster an inclusive workplace culture where diversity is not only accepted but valued and built in, creating opportunities for all.

It is important that diversity and inclusion is about making genuine changes – doing the right thing rather than carrying out a tick-box exercise. While we may start initiatives to mark a particular day or month, such as International Women’s Day or Black History Month, these initiatives and changes should inform everyday life in the business. For example, June is the official Pride month in the UK, however our activities and awareness campaigns run throughout the year.

At RLB, we have been working on a programme to bring inclusion to life in our business and data is key. We need to know where we are starting from to monitor progress and see whether we are making a difference. Education is key to achieving this change. Providing the business with learning and development – from e-learning at induction to ongoing inclusive behaviour workshops – is also fundamental in helping colleagues improve self-awareness about their beliefs and behaviours and how these manifests at work. This has helped increase understanding of unconscious bias across our business.

Benefits for employees, business and industry

It is also important to recognise that diversity and inclusion, well-being and employee engagement are all aligned when it comes to creating opportunities for employees to thrive.

This helps increase productivity, while a clear vision and purpose enables a level playing field for all: we know that people are happier, more motivated and perform better when they can bring their whole selves to work.

We have also learnt that consistency is key. If you have a business across a number of sites, the culture should be the same in every workplace location. This applies equally across the built environment. In our bid to build a more inclusive industry where everyone can thrive, and we have the skillset to create the best buildings for the future, our greatest challenge may lie in providing consistent opportunities and positive experiences. It’s clear we are making progress but it is up to all of us to play our part in creating the future industry that we need and one we want to be part of.