In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent Hackitt Review, there is no doubt that a lot of learning needs to be cascaded throughout the entire construction supply chain.
But while I and the LMC team devour every piece of news about the Hackitt Review and the changes already being implemented in the industry, how much of this information and news is also being picked up by the construction professionals most directly affected?
If, as we suspect, this will be the biggest thing to shape the industry for the next 30 years, how well informed is the generation tasked with this culture change?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that much of the post-Grenfell learning is passing people by. So last year we collaborated with G4C to carry out some research among young professionals.
The results did not fill us with joy, to say the least.
Where young people get their news
Our research was conducted over the second half of last year, and targeted those aged 18 to 35 currently in the construction industry. We received 247 responses, all from professionals in the UK.
Most respondents said they felt moderately well informed about their specific industry’s news and views. (An average score of 67 out of 100, where 100 was ‘extremely well informed’.)
In response to a multiple-choice question ‘How do you access the latest news about your industry?’ here were the results:
- Mostly rely on reading industry news on an online site – 60%
- Mostly rely on news alerts on social media – 39%
- Mostly rely on e-newsletters and news alerts sent directly to my email – 28%
- Mostly rely on reading industry news in a national newspaper – 26%
- Mostly rely on reading industry news in a weekly, monthly or quarterly printed magazine – 25%
- Don’t really bother with latest news – 13%
(Some respondents chose multiple options, hence why the results add up to more than 100%.)
Then we asked ‘Specifically, in relation to the Hackitt Inquiry and changes facing your industry after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, how do you keep track of these issues?’
The results were:
- Mostly rely on an online news site – 47%
- Mostly rely on links to articles posted on social media – 36%
- Mostly rely on my professional institute or trade body – 29%
- Mostly rely on reading a weekly, monthly or quarterly printed magazine – 24%
- Mostly rely on e-newsletters and information sent by email – 18%
- Don’t really bother reading about this – 11%
- Will just go out and search for whatever I can find via a search engine – 10%
We prompted the young architects, surveyors and builders on their reading of the main trade press titles, and of the magazines published by professional institutes. Pretty much the same answer kept coming back – about half of respondents (47%-57%) said they didn’t really read any of these at all.
This paints a picture of the declining reach of the traditional media, already well documented. As the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer warned, we are becoming “a nation of news-skimmers and news-avoiders”.
But when so much information on online sites is now likely to become locked behind paywalls as the digital publishing model also shifts once again, it makes you realise that many Millennials in construction are heavily dependent for their industry information on the social sharing of news headlines, a few pieces in the Daily Mail and The Sun, and on simple word of mouth (which, at 50%, was the main alternative way they claimed to get information).
And how well, we wonder, is that working?
Construction Knowledge Task Group research results
Interestingly, soon after our research finished, another similar-sized survey was carried out by the Construction Knowledge Task Group, which included representatives from the Construction Leadership Council, CIOB, ICE, RIBA, RICS, BSRIA, CIAT, CIBSE, UKGBC, BRE, Arup, Rider Levett Bucknall, the University of Dundee and others.
The survey of 299 construction professionals had a very similar broad sample, including architects, contractors, engineers, project managers and surveyors. 86% of the respondents for this survey came from the UK.
The big question was: ‘Do you have easy access to all the knowledge you need to do your job?’ Only 61.5% said yes.
The main type of information that these workers access most frequently is the practical knowledge that is necessary for their day-to-day activities. As and when they need it, they search for answers to solve current problems, most typically technical and design guidance, information on standards and regulations, and product information.
The internet is the most frequently-used source of information, with web searches and free online sources accounting for almost 50% of the knowledge accessed.
The comments gathered by the survey suggested that many were overwhelmed by the amount of information available, confused by contradictory knowledge, and frustrated by how fragmented it is.
According to the researchers, there was a need for quick and straightforward access to knowledge on demand.
“The future,” they said, “should be one in which knowledge is better integrated, less siloed, more easy-to-access and available through flexible subscriptions and intelligent search tools.”
All these research findings say clearly to me that we really need to up our game when it comes to communicating with the young professionals currently in our industry (let alone the new recruits we need to target too).
‘Knowledge on demand’ is the new mantra we’re working to with our clients.
We’d like to thank G4C for all their help in making this research project a success.