If you were to guess what the biggest industry in the UK is, what would you say? Media? Law? You might be surprised to hear that the answer is in fact construction. The UK construction industry currently employs over two million people - that's one in every 14 working people. They work in a wide variety of different types of jobs, creating billions of pounds of business each year. The UK construction industry is recognised and admired globally for its world class design, superb architecture and high quality.
But what exactly is construction? Well, it means everything to do with constructing buildings and built spaces. That includes every detail from studio-based architectural design to hands-on plumbing and all sorts in between. And these jobs are not, as the construction industry's reputation suggests, available only for men. In fact, almost 200,000 women work in construction - so there's no excuse for girls not to get involved.
An innovative, creative, profitable construction industry is necessary for us to have modern public services and an exciting environment. If you had to have an operation, for example, you'd need a fully-functioning, carefully-designed hospital to stay in. When you need to get about, it's important that the roads are safely and sensibly laid out, and that the train station is comfortable and well-designed. Then there are more creative uses for construction. Ever heard of the Eden project in Cornwall?
Well, that amazing building, which is essentially a series of massive exotic greenhouses, would not be here without the construction industry. It took around 200 construction workers on site to make it - not to mention a whopping £86m! The Eden project is proving to be a massive success: it's not only helping to shape and improve the local environment, but also the local economy.
Another current major construction project is Wembley Stadium. Although it's running behind schedule, over 300 construction workers are working away on site to deliver the new building as soon as possible. All of these are examples of what you can achieve and be a part of if you choose to go into the construction sector.
People who work in construction can be employed in different ways as well as in different roles. Many work for a specific company or employer, but 35 per cent of construction workers today are self-employed. It's an ever-changing and expanding industry that's always on the look out for new talent.
A great way to get involved is through an apprenticeship. These are work-based training programmes, offering 16- to 24-year-olds paid employment while you learn. You work towards an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) or an SVQ (Scottish Vocational Qualification), Key Skills qualifications and a technical certificate such as a BTEC or City & Guilds. And as you're working part-time while gaining your qualifications, you understand the nature of your job in a real sense, and build up great industry contacts. Many apprentices go straight from training to a full-time just with their training provider.
There are five different construction apprenticeships. You can study building engineering, construction, electrical and electronic servicing, engineering and plumbing. To get involved in any of these areas, you'll need to be good with your hands, be prepared to undertake a physically demanding job in all sorts of weather, have full colour vision, be able to work both individually as well as in a team, and be able and willing to follow all safety instructions. Your training as an apprentice can take between one and five years. It is both a mental and physical process.
KEVIN RONEY, 17, is working towards an SVQ 3 in scaffolding. In his day-to-day schedule, Roney works all over the country, putting up different types of scaffolding systems that are used for roofing, cleaning stonework and other roles. "I enjoy the variety of work and the places I go to," says Roney. "Scaffolding's all about working as part of a team - and the pay's good too. Plus, you get a great view from a 200ft-high scaffold!" Roney chose this career because he wanted a challenge. He put in his research first too: before becoming an apprentice, Roney spoke to family friends who were scaffolders and did a taster course at college so he could gain more of an insight into scaffolding and the construction sector.
MARCUS WILLIAMS, 22, is a plasterer. He is working towards an NVQ Level 3 in fibrous plastering.
"Getting your hands dirty is as satisfying as seeing the results of your hard work," says Williams. He goes to college once a week, and so he gets the opportunity to meet different people and to socialise.
Employers are often keen to take on apprentices as the benefit from doing so as much as the apprentice does. A good example of this is David Taylor, who has been employing apprentices at his company D-Tec Electrical Limited in Chadderton, for 10 years.
Taylor says, "I believe apprenticeships are the way forward for my company as you can train them within the company rules and ethics. Apprentices are very loyal and tend to stay on as full-time employees once they have completed their apprenticeship. You get good value for money, as you do not have to spend time recruiting new people. What you put in, you get out."
Construction companies great and small seem to agree: Willmott Dixon, which is one of the top 20 companies in the UK construction industry, deals with the construction of local authority schools as well as other projects. They are keen to recruit apprentices. Likewise Shepherd, which is one of Europe's largest engineering and construction companies, and Wates, a large, privately-owned construction and development company.
Construction jobs demand that you work well in teams, which means you will never be on your own. You may get the chance to travel and work overseas, either setting up your own business or working for an overseas construction company. Or you could work on exciting projects closer to home. So why not become part of this rewarding industry? You may have the opportunity to contribute to a world famous building - whether it's the next Eden Project, Wembley Stadium, or whatever other big project the future has in store!
Five ways into construction
The construction apprenticeship courses available to you include:
Building services engineers apprenticeship
Students learn how to create and maintain a comfortable, energy-efficient and safe environment within a building.
Construction (craft) apprenticeship
Here, you have the chance to gain both the knowledge and craft skills needed for construction. These skills include masonry (stone and brickwork), steeplejacking (fixing and building steeples and chimneys), brick laying and wood occupations. Normally, craft engineer apprentices will need at least three GCSEs grade C in maths, English and a science or technology subject.
Electrical and electronic servicing apprenticeship
This course will give you the opportunity to learn the theoretical and practical skills to install and maintain electronic equipment. Service engineers can work in specialist workshops or customers' homes.
This course can lead to a particularly wide range of career options, from aircraft engineering to manufacturing. You may do welding, pipefitting and many other skills as part of your apprenticeship.
This involves learning to master the skills of cutting, bending and joining pipework of all types such as copper, plastic, steel and iron. Training will be given to apprentices on gas appliances and oil-fuelled systems.