The war for talent in construction

This week I gave a presentation at the inaugural Marketing in Construction Summit in London, organised by UK Construction Week.

When I started to prepare my talk, my initial idea was simply to reveal the results of some research recently conducted by LMC into how young professionals of 35 and under in construction access their news. Our study has given us some useful insights into the media habits of many younger industry workers, from general builders to architects, surveyors and engineers.

But the more we delved into the research results, the more wide ranging and significant the implications became.

And so my presentation became about something much bigger.

How do you engage with young people?

With the construction industry facing a crippling skills shortage (which is only likely to get worse post-Brexit), we really do need to get to grips with the changing communication needs and expectations of the new generations in the workplace. In the war for talent, it’s time to look again at how the majority of construction organisations engage with young people.

I think there are important lessons for all of us here in how we attract, recruit and retain the best workers. This is what I tried to share at the Summit.

Gen Z and our battle for new recruits

Generation Z (also known as Gen Z or the Post-Millennials) are those born from 1996 to 2010, or thereabouts. They’re said to be the biggest population by far, and they are arriving in a workplace near you right now.

As a mother of teenagers who fall into this group and an employer of graduates and apprentices of the same age, I’m lucky enough to get a fairly close-up view of this generation’s views on communication, marketing and PR.

Frankly, I think it’s a big wake-up call to our industry if we really want them to head our way.

According to my own observations (punctuated by my kids’ exasperated explanations), Ofcom’s excellent Communications Market Reports and the detailed cohort research at places like the Center for Generational Kinetics, Gen Z is already displaying some very distinct characteristics:

They’ve grown up totally immersed in technology

In fact, they cannot remember a time before iPhones or social media. Therefore they completely expect to have instant access to the information they want and need, in the palm of their hands, 24/7.

They’re impatient, with short attention spans

Allegedly just 8.25 seconds, which is shorter than a goldfish. They can process information more independently and faster than any preceding generation. I notice how they are very likely to treat their phones as ‘exo-brains’, illustrating their conversations with photos and videos they pull from this memory bank with lightning-fast thumbs.

As shown in our survey, traditional media just does not cut it anymore

Print media is as good as dead. Freely accessible online media may have a chance to reach them, but it had better be good content that’s easily found by search.

They don’t watch as much TV

They far prefer YouTube and Netflix for offering instant control over what they are watching, and access to seemingly endless, personalised content.

Diversity, equality and inclusion is incredibly important

They are accepting, tolerant, liberal minded and have a strong sense of justice about the rights of the individual, especially when it comes to gender, sexual orientation, nationality and race.

They are also eco-conscious

They truly want to make a difference to the world (although show me a generation of young people who didn’t want that).

Gen Z expects and craves authenticity

They are much more interested in marketing and brands that focus on them as individuals and centre on real people, rather than unattainable ideals. They are wary of celebrities, brands or businesses peddling a glossy image. They are more than aware of the toxic effect of societal expectations and fake marketing on their self esteem.

Social media is critical to their communications

But it’s on their terms only and they’re perfectly prepared to log off altogether if it doesn’t meet their needs. Those who remain online are much more attracted to apps with more privacy controls or opportunities for anonymity and alter-egos such as Instagram, Whisper and Snapchat.

They are mature beyond their years

They’re massively more self-aware than my generation was at that age. By the time they got to Year 10, these young people already had a pretty good idea of the sort of career that would suit them, or at least suit a well-formed sense of identity.

According to recruiters, Gen Z candidates are also much less likely to have had any sort of work experience

Not even a paper round (probably due, methinks, to over-anxious parenting). Annoyingly, they are also more likely to drop out of the recruitment process, rejecting or reneging on job offers – particularly if organisations don’t engage with them in the ways they expect.

Lessons for construction marketers

So put all this together, and what do you get? What can we usefully extract as pointers for how we in the construction industry compete for these young people’s attention, interest and skills?

Here are the 10 ideas that I proposed at the Marketing in Construction Summit. I’d certainly welcome your feedback and views.

  1. Know your audience, and get ready for ultra-targeted campaigns addressing smaller and more specialised identity groups. Profiling and research is becoming more important than ever, as we can no longer assume ‘mass market’ behaviours as before.

  3. Focus your brand-building PR campaigns on engaging with Gen Z via freely accessible online media, review sites, wikis, micro-influencers, bloggers and vloggers. Talk about how construction innovation is building a better world.

  5. Explore creative campaigns with interactive graphics and gaming, stunning photos, very short videos, original music or user-generated content.

  7. Absolutely everything in your communications arsenal must be optimised for search, for mobile viewing and for social sharing. Make it frictionless.

  9. Appeal to young people’s sense of identity. Create engaging, fun stories that show how specific jobs are perfect for “people like you”. Make it personalised, individual, authentic.

  11. Promote the full variety of jobs available in the sector – the technicians and technologists, surveyors and managers who don’t wear muddy boots. Show the personal contact, mentoring, networking and senior access these jobs provide – these things are very important to Gen Z.

  13. Get active on Instagram and YouTube to appeal to the young people; use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to reach their parents. You’ll need different content for different audiences.

  15. Present a genuinely diverse, equal and inclusive workforce and show those values in action, or risk the wrath and rejection of an entire generation.

  17. Many construction businesses are already doing great things with ambassadors, school visits, assemblies, careers fairs and mock interviews. Keep that going, even starting at primary school stage. Face-to-face interactions at school, hands-on activities and experiential marketing is absolutely critical to this generation. Create great experiences at trade shows, too.

  19. And finally, one massive plug for Design, Engineer, Construct – an education programme developed by Alison Watson MBE and Class Of Your Own. If you really want to make a difference, get involved with DEC. Adopt a school, and you can start to build seriously meaningful relationships with the three critical groups who each need persuading about the wonders of construction – the students, parents and teachers/careers advisers.


Looking for some creative input into your next generation plans?

Looking for some creative input into your next generation plans?

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