Job spotlight: Switching from construction to education
The principal lecturer – markets and recruitment lead, Department of Natural & Built Environment, at Sheffield Hallam University, talks about his transition into education.
What made you make the move from industry to academia?
When I was considering my options at 18 years old, I worked in the summer holidays for my physics teacher (he had his own construction business). He basically put me off taking up teaching as a career move. I went on to do a degree in construction and the rest is history.
Over 22 years later working in the industry, I saw a job alert from CIOB saying Sheffield Hallam University was looking for staff to teach construction management.
The advert said no prior experience in teaching was necessary and I met all the other criteria. So I took a punt and applied.
To be honest I was also looking for a better quality of life and the prospect of spending the six-week holidays with my wife and kids was a big attraction. I have always been a person who wanted to give something back and that was also for me a big motivation.
“Most people have heard of an architect, but beyond that our jobs and roles are largely unheard of in careers talks. Teachers think built environment courses are for their ‘low ability’ kids, which could not be further from the truth.”
Did you have to undergo special training to become a lecturer?
Part of the job offer was the insistence that we undertake a postgraduate teaching qualification, which I did alongside my teaching.
What are the challenges in attracting students to take construction courses?
There are numerous challenges – some of them are just like any industry.
We too are affected by the peaks and troughs in the economy. We experienced a large dip in numbers during the 2008 recession and the years that followed – largely because parents and schools thought if you do a degree that is vocational and there are no jobs you might not get one.
This is totally wrong: we have always had positive outcomes due to the industry shortage in good people, so our graduates found jobs, even during the recession. Many of those are now in senior positions because of the gaps in recruitment caused by the recession.
The other big thing is the lack of awareness in schools about the construction professions. Most people have heard of an architect, but beyond that our jobs and roles are largely unheard of in careers talks. Teachers think built environment courses are for their ‘low ability’ kids, which could not be further from the truth. We have some highly intelligent young men and women who go on to have very successful careers in the sector.
The final challenge is the gender and diversity gap. We suffer, just like our industry, in not being able to attract a diverse enough cohort. I think this is a societal issue; it is getting better, but we have a way to go to get close to our targets for diversity and inclusivity, that reflect better the demographic of society as a whole.
The construction industry is becoming more inclusive, but we are not yet where we want to be. It’s great to see that we now have a female at the top of the CIOB – a trend that I hope continues long into the future.
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