The national developer Lovell takes its recruitment very seriously indeed, and has given a select few employees the role of ‘construction ambassador’, for them to promote the idea of working in housebuilding to an audience of young people. We speak to Priya Halai, a 26-year-old assistant surveyor, about what she does in this special position.
Hi Priya, what does the construction ambassador role involve?
There are a dozen of us across the company, working in England, Scotland and Wales as part of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) construction ambassadors programme. We promote construction as a career and encourage young people into the industry through activities and events such as going into schools and colleges, attending careers fairs and organising visits to our housing developments. Ambassadors are drawn from across the company and include both senior managers and recent graduates.
Where did your attraction to working in the new homes industry start?
I joined the Lovell graduate programme after completing a degree in quantity surveying and commercial management. I chose this industry because I’ve always had a passion for maths but didn’t want to sit behind a computer. I love being able to go on site and see the homes going up.
What’s your career path been and how did it lead to this role?
After completing my two-year graduate traineeship, I was promoted to assistant surveyor for Lovell in London. The graduate programme included working as a construction ambassador and I’ve continued in that role because it’s something I’m passionate about, particularly bringing more women into the industry.
Who do you talk to in this role and where does it happen?
Young people of all ages, from primary school pupils to sixth-formers and students at further education colleges. We often go into schools but we also organise for young people to look round our developments – they find it very exciting to go on to site and walk round in a hard hat and boots and it makes it more real for them, rather than just listening to us talking about it.
Does your audience often already have an enthusiasm for housebuilding at this stage?
It depends. Some might be students who are already studying construction so they are already thinking about it as a career but other children and young people we meet see it differently. Often, they think it’s all just about bricks and mortar and getting your hands dirty and they don’t realise what goes on behind the work on site. We try to open their eyes to the other job roles that are involved and the opportunities the industry can open up for them – if you train as a plumber, for example, you can set up your own business.
Which questions are you most often asked?
I’m often asked how I got into the industry and why I wanted to work in construction. I think young people are sometimes surprised because I may not fit their idea of what someone in construction looks like. I also get asked how women are treated – I explain to them that I’m part of a great team and I’ve never felt out of place at work.
Do housebuilders do enough to entice the best talent to the industry?
I think we should all be doing more to reach out to children at a younger age. There’s still a misconception that construction is for people who have ‘failed’ at school, whereas in fact, it’s an industry that offers financially and creatively rewarding careers and fantastic job security.
What do you think needs to be done to make sure the skills shortage is dealt with effectively?
I’m pleased that the government is supporting apprenticeships. More generally, I think it’s important that we don’t just work with young people but with schools and parents too. Sometimes when we visit schools, we talk to the children in the day and the parents in the evening and that’s vital in terms of shaping wider attitudes to construction as a career. I’d like to see the industry viewed as a high-status job, in the same way as medicine or law. It’s about actively promoting the opportunities we offer and showing children and young people what construction can enable them to achieve.