Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building
  • 20 Dec 2016

Industry's pivotal role in driving social mobility

CIOB report says industry accounts for a third of all skilled trades which provide route to top.

Construction has the most critical role to play of all industries in reversing the declining levels of social mobility, a new report from the CIOB concludes.

The report, Social Mobility and Construction – Building routes to opportunity, says the sector is one of few industries left that still employs a large number of traditional skilled trades, roles that provide stepping stones into more managerial jobs, and it calls on the government to help champion the UK as a world leader in construction excellence.

The report says: “The once swelling number of middle-status jobs that fuelled upward social mobility are now in decline. Job creation is increasingly at the top or the bottom of the income scales. An hourglass economy is forming which expands the social divide between classes of people. This restricts social mobility and in turn spills over into social unease.”

It adds: “A key factor in the development of the hourglass economy is the rapid decline in well-paid skilled trades occupations, which provided for many a route from manual jobs into management and professional careers. There is one prominent industry where this decline has not occurred – construction. Unlike other industries, the diverse range of construction’s products, and consequently tasks, has meant the drive towards automation has been limited and so has had relatively little impact on the shedding of craft skills.

“Construction in the UK now accounts for a third of all employment in this occupation group and a greater proportion of new job opportunities.”

Industry perceived to most help poorer people to improve their economic status

Industry perceived to most help poorer people to improve their social status

Research for the report also shows how construction is seen by the public as a driver in the economic mobility of those it employs. The survey of 1,094 working adults was undertaken by ComRes in August 2016 to ascertain their views on aspects relating to social and economic mobility.

Construction came third behind professional and scientific and banking as the industry that would do most to help poorer people to improve their economic status (see graphs below). However, perhaps reflecting the poor image of construction with the public at large, it is seen as less effective in promoting social status.

The survey also pointed to the public’s perception that the built environment has a major role to play in promoting social mobility. Better transport, better schools and better neighbourhoods improve the life chances of many, and especially those of children born to poorer parents.

“The shaping of the built environment plays a big part in how these opportunities are distributed. Where we live and the opportunities made available greatly impact on our life chances.

Upward intergenerational mobility by industry

Source: ONS Quarterly Labour Force Survey, July-Sep 2015

“This report shows how both as an employer and through what it builds, construction has a profound impact on the life chances of UK citizens,” says the report.

The CIOB report is published just a month after the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2016 report warned that “Britain has a deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for an entire generation of young people.”

The State of the Nation report concluded that “the impact was not just felt by the poorest in society but is also holding back whole tranches of middle- as well as low-income families – these treadmill families are running harder and harder, but are standing still”.

It found fundamental barriers, including an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, a regionally imbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market. And it pointed to evidence that those born in the 1980s are the first post-war cohort not to start their working years with higher incomes than their immediate predecessors.

Construction's growing importance as a route to skilled trades occupations

Source: UKCES, Working Futures 2012-2022

Share of skilled trades occupations by sector

Source: UKCES, Working Futures 2014-2024

Brian Green, the author of the CIOB report, said: “The agenda of this report, to establish the connections between social mobility and construction is central to what is going on politically.

“There has always been the opportunity to progress through trade and into management on merit. The industry plays an even more important role as manufacturing loses it jobs.”

CIOB President Paul Nash added: “Our ability to progress people through trades and into management separates us from other industries. Around a third of skilled occupations are now in construction. The statistics themselves provide a case for government to look closely at the sector.”

He pointed out that the CIOB enabled those from whatever background to gain qualifications and progress their career.

“The other thing the report highlights is the impact the built environment has in shaping opportunities for people. There is a clear link there as well,” he added.

The report can be downloaded here

Summary of recommendations


  • Produce with urgency a plan to boost the UK as an international hub of construction excellence, as a core part of the Industrial Strategy.
  • Provide greater funding to support the travel costs of apprentices.
  • Support wider access to the professions and support those from less-privileged backgrounds.

Construction businesses

  • Focus on better human resource management.
  • Introduce and/or expand mentoring schemes.
  • Boost investment in training.
  • Develop talent from the trades as potential managers and professionals.
  • Industry rally around social mobility as a collective theme.

Professional bodies and institutions

  • Drive the aspirations of earlier CIOB report Professions for Good for promoting social mobility and diversity.
  • Support wider access to the professions and support those from less-privileged backgrounds.

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