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Why don’t young people love construction?

Paul Morrell, until recently the government’s construction adviser, thinks architects and nurses have a lot  in common. ‘No matter how badly we treat them,’ he says, ‘there are always more than we need.’ The latest occasion on which he made this pronouncement was at the third of four debates set up by the Edge Commission to discuss the future of the professions.

The problem with the popularity of architecture as a course of study is not only to do with how many people are disappointed – satisfying jobs are few, money is generally bad and the profession still treats women shamefully – but that it masks the lack of recruits to other professions.

All the other built environment professions are struggling to attract enough young people. The cohorts are getting older, and soon many will retire. And as one speaker said, ‘We used to solve our skills shortage by importing people. Now that door is closed to us.’ Stricter immigration laws are having an impact.

The irony is that once many people get into built environment professions, they love being there. Yes, architects moan and often with justice, but many love what they do. And so do engineers, planners, builders, planners, surveyors and  landscape architects. What is not to love about making bridges stand up, transforming cities and making our environment lovelier, more liveable and healthier?

In fact, while architecture is in some ways being marginalised, the roles of other professions are growing. It is just that ‘architect’ is an easy term to grasp, that one can sell the myth of the sole creator and see Norman Foster as the next Howard Roark. Architects are popular in films. Jude Law once played a landscape architect (in Breaking and Entering – it wasn’t very good) but that is about it. 

Stanley Tucci in Margin Call (a really good film) talks at length about how he used to be an engineer serving society before he was seduced into the wicked ways of Wall Street, but all the non-architecture professions have a way to go to sell themselves.

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