Construction Needs to Stop Raising Awareness Immediately. Here’s Why

“Raising awareness” doesn’t work. How do I know? Let’s face it: if doing awareness raising talks in schools a couple of times a year was enough, we wouldn’t have a skills shortage, would we?

But ‘raising awareness’ is potentially much worse than simply being ineffective.

We want to solve the skills shortage. But the metric we’re giving ourselves is to ‘raise awareness’. One thing does not equal the other. So young people aren’t taking action, because we’re not explicitly asking them to. We’re assuming they’ll figure out the rest of the journey themselves.

The problem with these awareness-raising tactics and campaigns is that they are ends in themselves. Our audience can’t fail because there’s nothing to actually fail at.

Raising awareness is not equivalent to solving a problem. We’re getting a healthy dose of the warm fuzzies when we visit schools that somehow we’ve helped, without actually helping. The only metric by which a campaign’s success should be measured is in how many people were spurred into meaningful action.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Awareness-raising done in the wrong way can actually backfire, encouraging the negative activities in question. Far from being progressive, or even benign in nature, there are many negative aspects to awareness-raising. What that means is that ‘awareness-raising’ encourages the behaviours we don’t want, not just in the short term, but the longer term too.

Really, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t want to simply raise awareness. We want the outcomes and actions that stem from awareness raising. We want interest, we want action. Those don’t come from more education. They come from engagement, and relationships, and effort, and removing barriers.

You know this in business – you don’t just shout your company’s services into a void and hope for the best. You offer a website, or printed collateral, that provides more details about your skills and experience. You attend events. You submit tenders. You talk to prospects and customers. If you’re really smart at marketing, you also provide some add-on products and services to augment your main offer. You partner with non-competing related businesses to improve your offer. You co-create solutions with your target audience.

And that’s the level of effort that’s required if we’re ever going to solve the skills shortage. No ifs, no buts.

Based on everything that we know about our brains and their bafflingly strong desires to fit in with the crowd, the best way to convince people that they should care about an issue and get involved in tackling it isn’t to tell people what they should do—it’s to tell them what other people actually do.

Tripping over our own enthusiasm

And this exact phenomenon has been holding construction back for decades, because we ARE telling them what other people actually do. We’re telling them that there’s an unsolvable skills shortage, and young people like them don’t want to work in the construction industry. So that’s the behaviour they’re adopting. They’re doing exactly the same as all their peers: ignoring construction and going to work in other sectors. This is known as the ‘law of unintended consequences’, and we’ve been tripping ourselves up with it for years.

Decision making follows these stages: Pre-contemplative – Contemplative – Preparation – Action – Maintenance. More about this at beskillsinschools.co.uk, but suffice it to say that ‘awareness raising’ moves someone from step 1 to step 2. At best. There’s still a long way for them to go on that careers journey.

People make decisions on emotion, not fact. All human behaviour, at its root, is driven by the need to avoid pain and the desire to gain pleasure. Even when we do something that appears to be painful, we do it because we associate pleasure with the action. You, as a ‘seller’ of the concept of careers in construction, are responsible for every step in that journey you want the ‘buyer’ to make

So, what to do instead? (because we don’t do empty theorising here)

1.) Tell stories

In a previous post (How Would Coca-Cola Solve the Skills Gap) I mentioned the power of story telling. Telling stories is an effective tool for taking people with you on an emotional journey, and it works particularly well when used to help people take a mental stroll through a series of stages (i.e. from where they are to where you want them to be)

2.) Conversion from one stage to the next

Always make sure your action (whether that’s a site tour, an assembly, a careers fair, a school challenge, or anything else) has a clear and stated next step (or two. Or three) Once somebody has done this thing, what should they do next? What’s the call to action? How are you measuring the % of your audience who take those next steps? How are you improving your conversion rate?

3.) Team up

I don’t mean that you have to provide all the steps yourself. This would be a great time to roll out that tricky c-word; Collaboration! Who in your network offers an appropriate next step (mentoring, workshops, careers aptitude tests, or whatever it should be)? And if you don’t know, how on earth could you expect children to know?? Pick up the phone, send an email, get out there and talk to people. Find out

4.) Help others

If you don’t have much trouble recruiting and retaining talent, you might think that your end of the boat isn’t sinking, so everything’s peachy. This is a sector-wide issue. If your supply chain suffers, so will you. So will the individuals and communities you build for. And so will the future of construction