Initiative takes construction to the classroom

27 February 2017

The first WOWEX placements involved students from Stockport College

ISG's Dr Vicky Hutchinson explains how she secured CITB funding to develop a work experience initiative to make a career in construction more appealing to young people.

We are no strangers to headlines about skills shortages in our industry and across the wider media. With an ageing workforce and a poor pipeline of young entrants, the construction industry is experiencing a skills crisis now and it is set to become more pronounced in the future.

Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) data shows that the overall appeal of the construction industry as a career option for young people is low, scoring 4.2 out of 10 among 14-19-year-olds.

We set out to challenge the outdated perception of construction by developing the WOWEX (World of Work Experience) concept. It is unashamedly designed with the aim of making our industry more appealing to young people, highlighting and exploring the types of careers that are available and how disciplines like planning and estimating contribute to the successful delivery of construction projects.

In these first trials, there is also a specific focus on reaching out and engaging those individuals who wouldn’t normally consider construction roles, particularly girls and black and minority ethnic (BME) groups.

WOWEX is a week-long group placement that incorporates a series of activities aimed at revealing the full spectrum of career opportunities available within construction management. As part of the initiative, students experience a site visit, receive a series of presentations from professionals covering business development, planning, surveying and project management, and get an immersive introduction to the real-world tools and techniques used in 21st century contracting.

"After this 12-month pilot, ISG will make all study materials and guidance notes available to the CITB for distribution to the entire industry. The hope is that hundreds of students will benefit from WOWEX in the future."

The exciting part of this initiative is the wider industry application of the knowledge and learning that we are building up as we trial and refine the programme with four different groups of students over this academic year. After this 12-month pilot, ISG will make all study materials and guidance notes available to the CITB for distribution to the entire industry. The hope is that hundreds of students will benefit from WOWEX in the future.

This resource will include information and strategies specifically to help construction companies overcome the practical limitations of providing work experience. When we have spoken to our counterparts in the industry, the same themes recur – the resource-intensive nature of accommodating work placements on site and important health and safety considerations when bringing minors onto busy, live projects.

Direct learning from WOWEX will help simplify often onerous processes, providing practical solutions so that contractors can maximise the value and frequency of work experience opportunities.

A taster session for the placement was held with students from Buile Hill School in Salford last year. This resulted in great feedback, with 77% of attendees agreeing that their eyes had been opened to the opportunities of working in the industry.

The first WOWEX placement was successfully delivered to students from Stockport College at ISG’s Manchester offices in October 2016 – 43% of attendees were non-white British and 14% were female.

The feedback from this first intake has been extremely encouraging, with one Stockport College student commenting: “I enjoyed the whole thing. I like how we are actually doing the real thing on a smaller scale and how everything links together.”

An initiative born out of a desire to drive an increasing number of work placements has turned into a more powerful and ambitious plan to redress the balance between perception and reality for our industry.

By measuring students’ attitudes towards construction before and after the WOWEX placement, we’re capturing and ultimately sharing important data on key drivers and insights from a broad cross-section of our future talent pool. Attendees also come away far more energised, committed and enthusiastic about careers in construction.

There’s also a positive benefit for organisations that embrace this type of initiative. It’s been found to be extremely rewarding for our staff and it’s great to be able to deliver social benefit through work, especially since there is long-term value for our business and the wider industry.

Dr Vicky Hutchinson is national frameworks social responsibility manager at ISG

For more details on WOWEX, email


As an initiative this has to be commended, however, don't you think its a little too late to be trying to influence teenagers, who probably have already set their hearts and minds on a particular career path? My wife established a similar set up with local Willmott Dixon office some ten years ago to show primary School children that working and in particular work in the construction industry was well within their grasp giving them a taste of what they could be doing in the future. This is the age that needs to be caught, to be shown possibilities and to give children an insight into the world of work. She called it Inspire to Aspire. Comprehensive age is too late, get children to look into the future at 9, 10 or 11.

David Benson, 28 February 2017

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