Paul Sykes: Securing the Olympics is a great win for the industry

The construction and built environment sector employs nearly two million people in the UK and accounts for 6 per cent of the GDP (£60bn). It's also a growing sector with job opportunities available for 88,000 people every year for the next five years and this figure looks set to increase with London's successful Olympic bid for 2012.

These figures provide plenty of scope for people considering going to university to study for careers in a range of construction professional services, including civil engineering and town planning or quantity surveying and architecture. There really is something out there to suit most individuals and people are starting to realise that there's more to construction than bricklaying. The construction professional services sector employs 225,000 people which is set to rise to 365,000 by 2007.

To remain competitive, the industry is keen to attract the best applicants from all walks of life, which means that employers are looking at a diverse recruitment pool. Women and ethnic minorities, who are under- represented in the industry, are now starting to look at a career in construction in a different light.

This is partly to do with the positive image that the industry has worked hard to promote. ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council for the construction industry, runs an annual advertising campaign aimed at promoting the benefits of working in construction and the variety of roles available. Once people are actually aware of the opportunities the industry has to offer, their perception of a career in construction changes dramatically. Research conducted in 2004 showed that after seeing the ConstructionSkills advert, which was designed to challenge stereotypes by featuring inspirational buildings and the voice of youth TV presenter June Sarpong, words such as "enjoyable", "respected" and "exciting" were linked to the industry by a high proportion of young people.

Graduates starting out in the construction industry can expect to earn between £19,000 and £23,000, with ongoing prospects of development and training - most employers also guide their graduates towards a professional qualification.

If you're a graduate with a degree linked to construction and the built environment, the chances are that you'll more than likely be in employment and, more to the point, will have got there pretty easily. Almost half of all employers in a recent Built Environment Professional Services Skills Survey, reported serious problems with skills gaps. A worrying two-thirds have experienced difficulties in recruiting sufficiently skilled and experienced "work-ready" staff - basically, this means that as a qualified graduate straight out of university, you'll find yourself in demand.

Many people believe that young people are starting to shy away from university due to fear of debt and according to research by Universities UK, 83 per cent of current students think that being in debt is one of the worst aspects of going to university.

The construction industry is well aware of the financial burden that studying can bring, so many construction companies offer the opportunity to work and study towards a degree part-time. Plus, construction degree applicants can apply for up to £9,000 of scholarship funding during their degree through organisations such as ConstructionSkills, in conjunction with employers in the industry, where they can complete their practical work experience during university breaks. Applications for 2005 scholarships have closed, however ConstructionSkills is running the scheme in 2006 and full details will be available on the website, www.bconstructive.co.uk/ scholarship.

Securing the Olympics is a great win for the UK's construction industry and provides a fantastic opportunity for those already working in the sector, those in training or studying construction-related courses and even those still deciding on their future. Imagine playing a part in the world's most exciting sporting event; there has never been a more exciting time to join the construction industry.

Our message to those making career decisions in schools and colleges around the country is, join us, gain the trade, technical or professional skills and in 2012 you may be able to point to an Olympic stadium and say "I built that".

Paul Sykes is a CITB-ConstructionSkills Recruitment Manager

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