Although the construction industry boasts over 35 different occupational areas - ranging from architecture to quantity surveying - the reality is that most graduates overlook the sector altogether. "The biggest problem is image," says Mark Blythe, managing director of GTI, the specialist graduate publishers. "Mention construction and people think of builders, but it's a terrific industry with an enormous range of professional possibilities."
It doesn't help that many of the most exciting roles, such as site management and project planning, simply don't exist on the graduate radar. Blythe says: "Graduates don't know these careers exist and even if they do, they're quick to dismiss them because they assume they'd need a relevant degree,"
Which they don't. Because of the skills crisis in the industry, more and more people with non-cognate degrees are being encouraged to do conversion courses. Most take two to three years, and many can be done on the job. Mark Way, chairman of lifelong learning and education at the Construction Industry Council, says: "We're getting loads of people with geography degrees going on to be quantity surveyors."
Among those providing these courses is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The majority of graduates studying this course apply directly to a university. Meanwhile, graduates who want to earn while they learn and who are interested in disciplines ranging from construction management to quantity surveying, can opt for the more recently introduced Chartered Institute of Building graduate diploma.
Matt Keen was a trainee site manager for Willmott Dixon Housing. "I had a year out during my first degree and wound up doing some labouring. I found myself attracted to everything that construction has to offer. I particularly like the fact that you're never in one place for more than a single project and I enjoy the mix of office and outdoor work."
Bruce McAra, managing director of Cost Management, a company that employs quantity surveyors, is taking on more people like Keen. "We now employ people with arts degrees, as well as science degrees. Provided they are bright, intelligent people and genuinely interested in what this industry has to offer, we'll consider them."
He believes there's never been a more exciting time to join construction. "The industry is growing at a rate we haven't experienced for a whole generation and with all the new technology that's come in since, it's amazing what is being achieved."
"The Government is committed to this sector and the days when most of your time would involve being stuck out on a site with muddy boots are over," Keen adds. "We are becoming a truly valued profession."
Among the projects graduates get involved in are roads, homes, bridges, town centres and airports. Examples in recent years include the Thames Gateway Bridge, Royal William Yard in Plymouth and the Solar Pyramid in Derbyshire. You could also find yourself involved in restoration projects such as the Georgian Theatre Royal building in Richmond, which has been restored to look as it would have done 200 years ago. The Grade I listed building has had its auditorium painted to match the original décor and new lighting has been designed to recreate the flickering candles that would have lit the building when it opened in 1788. It's also had a new extension. The project cost £1.4m and was completed in 2003.
Tony Ellender, training manager at Balfour Beatty, which employs 120 graduates a year - mainly civil and construction engineers and quantity surveyors - agrees that helping to create something tangible is appealing: "We tend to do big hospital projects, as well as schools, roads, tunnels and bridges." He points to other career routes for graduates with non-related degrees. "Within our business, we require a whole range of professionals, such as in HR, marketing, IT and accountancy. These type of roles probably make up 20 per cent of our graduate intake."
Helen Kirk-Brown, a branch manager at Hays Construction & Property, says: "About 80 per cent of graduates coming to us have graduated in construction and they really do have the pick of the crop when it comes to jobs. I remember six years ago, when I started out in recruitment, graduates would walk through the door in the summer and you could put them in temp work. Now, they say they'll only take permanent positions and they're getting them. They're getting really good jobs with plenty of early responsibility."
The industry is especially keen to attract engineers, says Mark Blythe of GTI. "The City increasingly targets engineering students and, periodically, you hear about whole year groups not going into construction because they're snapped up elsewhere. This has always been a problem, but since the construction industry so desperately needs engineers, it is doing all it can to get them on board. For graduates, this can mean extra perks that are well worth considering."
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