Build the Things that Build Better Things

Kathryn Lennon-Johnson on careers that build a future of health, inclusion, and sustainability on purpose. This piece was originally printed in the CDI magazine, ‘Career Matters’

Construction is not a popular career choice

The 2014 PyeTait report, Educating the Educators, found 35% of careers advisers believed construction to be an unattractive career opportunity. Data from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) shows that the overall appeal of the construction industry as a career option is low, scoring 4.2 out of 10 among 14-19-year olds. But, according to government figures, construction is a major sector of the UK economy. It generates almost £90 billion annually and employs almost three million people.

Even more importantly than GDP, construction is an industry that shapes lives every single day

The recent global changes triggered by the COVID19 pandemic have helped everyone to see how much the built environment affects our lives, and possibly to consider how we would improve it. Confined to our homes while we watched the air clear and nature thrive, we have begun to recognise the significance of green spaces and question the importance of commuting to formal workplaces. The built environment matters. It has consequences. The things we build can last for decades and impact generations to come. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency-funded study, western nations spend between 85 and 90% of our time indoors. And, right now, we are experiencing the limitations of some of those indoor spaces. We are affected by the built environment in every minute of every day, often at an unconscious and cellular level. It affects how we sleep – through acoustics and temperature – how we digest food – through light and moisture levels – and how we age – via our raised cortisol.

Building the world we want is more than simply adding new, shiny things

The built environment needs to deliver inclusion, sustainability, resilient communities, safe housing, mental and physical wellbeing as well as support for ageing populations. The industry has tried, with varying success, to bring balance to a workforce that is 88% male, mainly white and able-bodied, but increasing diversity in all its forms will widen the lens of construction and ultimately improve the built environment. Despite our well-publicised housing shortage, statistics from the Government’s dwelling stock data suggest that 80% of the built environment we will occupy by 2050 already exists, so repurposing, renovating and redesigning are just as crucial as envisioning new things.

Change is constant and inevitable

The World Economic Forum’s 2018 “Future of Jobs” report suggests that less than 40% of young people in education will come into jobs that currently exist. And once we’ve got past the challenge of pandemics, Brexit and climate change, there will certainly be something new and unexpected to follow with all the associated career options that brings.

The Paris mayor recently announced ’15-minute cities’ as part of her re-election campaign, with each arrondissement set to offer groceries, parks, cafes, sports facilities and workplaces within walking distance. This move towards placemaking reduces traffic pollution, creates resilience, and could limit the damage of new waves of local lockdown. Across the UK, rethinking libraries and community centres could provide pop-up workspaces and socially-distanced meeting areas, while protecting these key local facilities. Although much has been made of the UK Government’s decision to relax planning regulations, this should not mean a relaxation in the need for well-planned and appointed communities.

There is a need for clear vision to create the future we want

Many cities and LEP regions have published Local Development Plans to outline their commitment to investment and growth (though the finer details of these may inevitably be reviewed over the next 12 months). As a broad brush, these plans give a picture of the careers and opportunities that will shape the local labour market, and all plans have construction as one of their priority sectors. Although construction is often considered a low-skilled workforce, many of the roles required to create our collective futures ask for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and all involve constant learning and self-development as part of the job.


  • As the climate changes and the population grows, our buildings will have to rest on more challenging substrates and survive more extreme weathers. Structural engineers create stable and secure structures from appropriate, responsible materials. Starting at around £22,000, structural engineers often add a postgraduate qualification to their undergraduate degree.

  • Services’ allow a building to do what it is designed to do and building services engineers are responsible for the lighting, heating, power and security in our homes. Progressing through HNDs and apprenticeships to higher qualifications, Building services Engineers can expect to earn over £35,000 with a degree and experience.


  • With the Government’s relaxation in planning regulations, building control surveyors may be the line between order and chaos. Making sure that new and converted buildings are safe, accessible and sustainable means meeting the requirements of building regulations. HNDs, degrees and apprenticeships are popular routes into Building Control and starting salaries can be as high as £27,000.

  • Using technology to plan scenarios and avoid mistakes is slowly becoming more commonplace in construction. Building Information Modelling (BIM) uses 3D computer models and augmented reality to create complete mockups at every stage of the building’s life, allowing it to be visualised in context. All public sector projects now require the use of BIM, and experienced BIM managers can expect to earn over £40,000.


  • Urban design is a relatively new profession that has grown recently in response to the demand for placemaking and population dynamics. Urban designers often work closely with town planners and architects, using research and analysis to understand the needs of their end users. Qualifications in geography, graphic design or economics may be entry points, although urban design degrees are becoming more common in this growing specialism.

  • Innovative, aesthetically pleasing and accessible landscapes can promote more active lifestyles, and proximity to green spaces has recently moved much higher up our collective wish lists. Landscape architects take account of sustainability and ecology, and a keen interest in design and the environment will see students onto a conversion course from any existing undergraduate degree.


  • Environmental consultants might specialise in contamination (of air, land or water), flood risk, emissions or renewable energies, or work across a number of these issues. Qualifications in geography, ecology, geology or earth sciences are the minimum requirement for this role, and graduates can expect to start at around £23,000.

  • Growing populations and increased urbanisation can only mean one thing – more waste. Waste disposal, landfill, and recycling might all fall within the remit of a Waste management officer, and promotion of reuse and repurposing are key messages as the world’s resources deplete. Although there is no standard route, HNDs and degrees in geography or science subjects could see a waste management officer earning over £30,000.

*All careers information is supplied by Prospects and is accurate at the time of writing.