Mentoring – Engaging with the Future

May 19, 2021

Adapting working practices through the coronavirus pandemic has obviously been the recent focus of the construction sector, but whilst this crisis will hopefully fade through the vaccination programme, there remains the ever-present issue of the growing skill shortage. Aging workforce, competition from perceived ‘more interesting’ careers and the low attraction of the construction sector all play a part in this skill shortage, so it’s hardly surprising that the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) believes that more than 200,000 skilled workers will be needed by the mid-2020s.

There are many ways to tackle this issue and the British Drilling Association (BDA), along with pretty much all industry bodies, are taking steps to address this, and whilst the steps are small, progress is being made and there are signs for optimism. However, as much as there is a job to recruit more young people into the sector, there is also a need to retain those already within the industry as well as widen diversity and inclusivity, so the sector truly reflects the national demographic.

One way of achieving this is through mentoring and there is good evidence to support it. A survey reported by the UK Human Resource Directors found some 28% of those polled said they wanted some form of mentoring to progress through their careers. The survey went on to comment about how few knew how to access mentoring programmes or that they even existed.

Clearly there is a place for mentoring, as it directly passes knowledge and experience to those young people beginning or progressing through their chosen career, but indirectly research has shown it has a positive role in addressing gender representation issues, particularly in fields with less female role models such as construction. In addition to addressing the gender gap mentoring has been shown to help also encourage other underrepresented groups such as LGBT+ and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities into the construction sector. As well as the recognised benefits a diverse workforce can bring to a business, such as higher productivity, employee retention, wider talent pool, better understanding of the customer base and greater innovation, it can also impact positively on the bottom line. In fact, a recent McKinsey report [Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, May 2020] found that companies who focus the most on racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to have financial returns that are above average for their industry.

Against this backdrop of growing evidence, the BDA is pleased to add its support to Ground Forum’s (GF) mentoring scheme, an initiative established by the Federation of Piling Specialist (FPS) and passed to GF for wider reach. The scheme is designed to directly support the goal of increasing the number of presently underrepresented groups within the construction sector, as well as retain those already within it.

The GF mentoring programme has attracted mentors from all sectors of the ground engineering industry that not only feel passionate about construction but have a willingness to pass on a real-world perspective on the geotechnical sector. These mentors have been partnered with typical mentees, which in the first instance includes students at university that have expressed an interest in the sector; those early in their careers; those experienced persons who would benefit from a little encouragement to re-capture their interest through to site operatives seeking more general support.

To-date, some 60 mentees and mentors have been partnered-up through STEER Support & Mentoring CIC, to great success: ground engineering professionals from across the sector teamed up with students from Universities including, Portsmouth, Loughborough, Bradford, Leeds, Brunel, Hertfordshire, and Bath, with ground engineering industry professionals, but this is just a start. The long-term goal of the initiative is to widen the scheme to engage with a broader spread of mentees and even to those at school level, albeit in a different form, to elevate construction and the ground engineering specialisms higher on the list of career options.

Although hundred recently my social distancing, the scheme provides for work experience, which is essential for those considering a career in ground engineering, as nothing beats real-world in highlighting the rewards such a career can offer. With the support of many companies, including those of the BDA, more mentoring and work experience opportunities will be available, and coupled with GF’s intention to provide interview training and CV workshops, the scheme looks set to grow considerably.

The BDA is proud to support this scheme and whilst it may not solve immediately the shortage of skills of the construction sector, it is a very big step towards its solution and in making construction a more diverse, inclusive and attractive sector to work in. 

Author:  Richard Fielden, Chair, British Drilling Association

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