Gimme an E, Gimme a V… EVIDENCE!

semaphoreIt’s Summit season in construction. Events are underway, panels are convening, speakers are sharing their ideas and insights.

I’ve recently come back from this year’s CIC Construction Industry Summit 2016 – great event, lovely venue, fascinating people, and a broad range of speakers and topics (though I would say that, given that I was one of them). It was well organised, well attended, and certainly worth two days of your time, whatever part of the sector you’re from

But, the one thing really notable by its absence was practical action

Lots of the talks and panels took the “this is what we should be doing” approach. And I’ve got no doubts that they’re absolutely right. But there was no evidence. Nobody said, “this is how long it will take.” Or, “this is how much it will cost.” Or, “this is who’s going to do it.” Or, “this is the empirical evidence from our interventions.” Or, “this is how we’ll know we’re on the right track.” Or, “this is how you can get involved”

And without that, it’s just words. Important, insightful, heartfelt words. But just words. And we’ll be having similar conversations next year, and the year after. Don’t get me wrong, discussing ideas with each other is a vital step in the process. But we shouldn’t confuse it with talking to our target audience

“This [insert high-level vision here] is what construction needs to do.” As if ‘construction’ were a single object, simply awaiting coordinates.

Obviously, I’m not the only person asking for more of a roadmap. I’ve heard more and more voices this year, looking for more substance. In fact, Highways England’s Jim O’Sullivan said at this year’s CN Summit, “I’m fed up with diversity initiatives. I want to see their results. It makes me very cross”

If you’ve made changes in your own organisation, how can other people duplicate the best practice (without copying any commercial advantage, naturally)? How can they deliver your visions in their own company, for their own staff? How can they get involved with your campaign, with support, or money, or resources?

Whilst I appreciate that CIS2016 was a summit and not a workshop, construction does have a bit of an issue with talking a subject to death. So, money where your mouth is, right?

Here’s the evidence for the talk that I gave at CIS2016 in relation to finally addressing the skills shortage…

My specific segment of that enormous, unwieldy skills chasm is young people. More specifically, those currently in education or recently released into the wild

And, as we all know, that audience are digital natives. They’ve never known anything but digital. They have access to more information than any generation in history, and they are also more affected by influence principles like social proof, where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation

Change is tough, no doubt about it. And the legitimate barriers we’ve faced in the past still hold true – limited amounts of time, finite resources, client pressures, financial capacity – none of these look likely to change in the near future. But now we’ve got additional obstacles to leap, including destination outcome payments, where schools are paid on the number of pupils remaining in education, therefore they actively prevent students meeting employers.

My background is behaviour change, which I’ve delivered within healthcare for many years. Lifestyle behaviour change relies on clear pathways of evidenced and measured action towards a goal, and every step on that pathway needs to be thought through in advance by healthcare professionals. So I know how to achieve managed, data-driven change.

And the approach I’m championing is digital. Digital overcomes so many of the barriers for employer involvement, because it’s flexible, consistent, cheap, scalable, quick and easily analysed. It’s inherently collaborative, it isn’t confined by geography or office hours, and it is the native language of the audience. It gives them instant and constant access to people, ideas, insights, and opportunities in bitesize, shareable, snackable form. It also allows us to support the teachers and parents that influence those young people

And here are the ways you can get involved, right now…

Digital is content-thirsty. The average young person consumes more than 295 pieces of content daily. So we don’t just want you to get involved, we NEED you to get involved. Without you, the existing content just becomes recycled and stale

The Built Environment Skills in Schools platform is available to over 24,000 schools. It uses many analytics tools to ensure content appears in the timelines of the right audience, at the right time of day, in the right format. We don’t duplicate any of the amazing initiatives that are already happening in skills; we just put that information straight into the hands of the audience, in the way they expect to receive it

In an earlier post (available here LinkedIn or here BESS Resources), I gave 8 ways that you could add content for no cost (other than your time). And these are still the easiest ways that you can add your voice to the choir of construction employers helping young people to make sense of their world.

Some of the content could be videos of projects you’re working on. Or talks and presentations you’ve previously given in assemblies. Or podcasts about the opportunities you want young people to experience in construction. Or challenges you want to set for schools and pupils to get a taste of construction. Or work experience opportunities within your organisation. Or live broadcasts from site, where children can see ‘behind the scenes’. Or something completely different

You can find How To guides for creating this content on the links above, too.

And these are all the ways we’ll measure progress..

Everything we’re doing is data-driven. Analytics and stats relating to individual employers are shared with them directly, allowing them to build on their most successful activity.

Every month we will publish high-level statistics of campaigns and activity, as well as the number of employers actively participating in digital outreach, and feedback from young people and educators on their perceptions of the construction sector and its many, diverse disciplines

So, to answer some of the rhetorical questions I posed earlier in the article:

  • How long will it take? Some of the pupils we’re talking to are just starting senior school, and they’ll be in education for at least another seven years, in one form or another. Behaviour change takes a generation, so we have set ourselves a ten-year target to evidence substantial change

  • How much will it cost? Hosting all this digital costs money, and we believe employers should pay that because any other source of funding would be too broad or unfocused. Young people want to hear what you’ve got to say, and only you can tell them. Subscription details are available on our website, but the real cost will be effort

  • Who’s going to do it? We all are. Sorry if that’s not what you wanted to hear, but no-one can do it for you. We’re providing the channel, the security, the analytics, and the audience. You need to provide the content

  • What’s the empirical evidence? There are many, MANY, studies into the empirical evidence of behaviour change, but we’ll be posting the evidence for all the digital outreach activity on a monthly basis

  • How will we know we’re on the right track? In addition to the evidence and statistics above, the audience will tell us. This is two-way communication, and their likes, shares, views and perception changes will show us clearly when we’re on the right track

  • How can I get involved? Sign up online or get in touch. Simple as that