Be Part of the Change podcast episode 4 – reaching out to young people

Posted on: 4 July, 2024

The built environment comprises a diverse and exciting range of sectors, but there is still a lack of representation at every level. We want this to change.

‘Be Part of the Change’ is an awareness campaign with the purpose of celebrating the incredible success stories of our under-represented students, apprentices and alumni, as well as highlighting their challenges.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight the positive practices our employers are actioning within their organisations to inspire other companies in their approach.

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In the fourth episode of our Be Part of the Change podcast, Drew Greenhalgh, Student Ambassador for EDI at UCEM, is joined by Lydia McGuinness, a Site Manager at Wates and a Young Ambassador for the CLC.


The topics discussed on this episode include:

  • How Lydia defied her family’s expectations to enter the built environment
  • What motivated Lydia to become the CLC’s People and Skills Young Ambassador
  • Why diversity is a crisis, not a competition
  • Why construction needs a Royal Navy-style ad campaign

Full transcript

Aysha: Hello and welcome to the Be Part of the Change podcast. This is UCEM’s new series that will explore the challenges and success stories faced by those from under-represented backgrounds in the built environment.

Drew: Hello and welcome to the Be Part of the Change podcast. I’m Drew, one of UCEM’s Student Ambassadors for equality, diversity and inclusion. Today we have Lydia McGuinness joining me on the podcast. Lydia is a site manager at Wates, but is also one of the Construction Leadership Council’s Young Ambassadors.

Lydia: Hello Drew. Thank you for inviting me to be on your podcast. I’m so excited.

Drew: So let me get started with the questions. It’d be great to hear about your journey into the built environment.

Lydia: I guess my journey started with me never wanting to be in construction in the first place! It wasn’t really an industry that was spoken about when I was at school. My parents aren’t in construction.

I started my A-Levels and found them extremely stressful. My mental health really took a decline when I was doing them. I have an older brother and sister as well. When they both did their A-Levels and went to university, I guess that was the only route to get a career that I was aware of. So I felt this immense amount of pressure to do really well in my A-Levels.

I then decided to look into other routes. So, I secretly actually went to an apprenticeship fair behind my Mum and Dad’s back and there were a few construction stands there and I just found it so interesting. I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office. I wanted to be able to work outside and inside. Construction offered both of that, and it really intrigued me.

They also offered a traineeship where you got to try out different job roles and then specialise in one of the professions, which was just brilliant because at that age you just have no idea what you want to do. So having that option was really, really good and I’m an active learner anyway, so I decided that getting an apprenticeship was the best route for me.

So I left my A-Levels! I remember telling my Mum and Dad were absolutely fuming. They were like: “You are not stopping your A-Levels! If you want to be successful, you have to go to university”. And, you know, a lot of people are really successful going to university. But for me, I needed to start working and I think I’ve got ADHD as well and I find it hard to concentrate. So that apprenticeship of being able to be on site and do your studies at the same time I knew was going to work for me.

There was a lot of judgment from friends and family. I specifically remember my careers advisor at the time saying that her husband works in construction and he doesn’t get home till 7.30pm every night, so it’s no place for a woman to work. And I think if anything, that made me want to do it more because so many people were saying, “oh, you can’t go into construction, you shouldn’t get an apprenticeship”. And the more people that told me I shouldn’t and I couldn’t, the more it made me want to do it and prove them all wrong. So I left sixth form, I got my apprenticeship and I went to college.

I did a course at college and then after that the company that I was working for offered me to do a degree. So that was one day a week at uni and then four days working. And I always use the saying, “you’re earning while you’re learning” because that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re getting paid, you’re getting your degree paid for and you’re learning at the same time. So for me it was a win-win.

I absolutely loved my apprenticeship. Obviously there were challenges along the way, being the only woman on-site in the early days, but it was a really good experience. I’ve had eight years in the industry now and I think I’ve had a great career already and I’m thriving in construction. So to all those people that thought that it wasn’t an industry for women, well, I guess I proved them wrong in the end.

Drew: Thank you. That was really interesting. I mean, I’ve always felt quite similar. I know that when I was doing my A-Levels, I knew that I didn’t want to go to university. It was quite odd really, because I remember trying to speak to my school about it and they weren’t supportive in the slightest.

Lydia: Yes, same with me. I think that A-Levels in a way are harder than going to uni because it’s like that stepping stone where you are still at school but you’re kind of being an adult and I think that support-wise, there was none.

It was a stressful time, but I think the apprenticeship was such a good experience for me compared to the A-Levels. And also when you’re doing the apprenticeship and you’re studying at the same time, you have that support from colleagues and people that are in the industry to say, “oh, you know, I’m doing this course about planning and project planning, so I’ll just go to the planner and ask them to help me out”. And that made the process a lot easier.

Drew: Yeah, I definitely understand that. I’m on the apprenticeship route, and being able to speak to someone in the industry who has experience just makes it so much easier.

Lydia: Yeah, exactly. It does.

Drew: So can you tell us what motivated you to become the CLC People and Skills Young Ambassador?

Lydia: Well, really, I applied for it because I’m part of a national chair for another group called Generation for Change, which is a young professionals group within construction. And a lot of people that I spoke to had similarly fell into construction like I had, but they absolutely love it.

And I think when I saw the advertisement for the Young Ambassador for People and Skills, I thought that’s for me, because I think construction isn’t just about, you know, bricks and concrete. It’s about people and skills that drive the progress. Whether you’re an engineer or a quantity surveyor or a supplier or a trades person, you are a crucial piece of the puzzle.

I’ve had such a good experience through my apprenticeship and working on-site and met so many amazing people, despite all those influential people in my life when I was younger telling me that construction isn’t the industry that you should be going into. With the CLC, I really wanted to make an impact by sharing people’s stories – especially young people that are in the industry and love it and are thriving and have amazing careers.

A lot of young people don’t really know about the Construction Leadership Council and what they’re doing. When I was in my first couple of years in the industry, I had no idea who the CLC were. It was only really around Covid time when they introduced CLC guidelines around Covid that I started to look into who the CLC were, and I think it’s important that young people do know what the CLC are doing because they have huge influence in government and across the whole industry.

The People and Skills Young Ambassador role was attractive because I wanted to spread good news, spread good stories and get more people involved with the CLC, and I was lucky enough to get the position. It’s been an amazing experience so far and I’m definitely looking forward to working with the CLC over the next year to really make some changes and make a difference.

Drew: Wow. Thank you. And you stated during the Inspire EDI UCEM event that diversity is a crisis, not a competition. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Lydia: Yes. This actually just came off the top of my head while I was speaking and luckily it actually sounds quite good! But the CITB have reported that by 2027 we need an additional 225,000 workers to keep pace with demand. So that’s a lot of people that we need to recruit and attract into the industry.

Construction as an industry is huge. We are massive. We have so much power and influence. But I feel like a lot of individual companies and groups that are working in isolation and trying to do their bit and do their own thing to tackle diversity, which is amazing. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t do that, but I just think that if we want to make a huge impact then we need to come together and, you know, this is a crisis and it shouldn’t be about who’s got the best stats or who’s got the best data.

At the UCEM event I spoke about the Royal Navy adverts and how when I watched them, I was so inspired to join the Royal Navy because they were telling a story: “Born in Carlisle; made in the Royal Navy”. And it made me want to join because I wanted to be part of this Royal Navy group.

I said at the event that we need something similar for construction. You know, a construction TV advert that makes us look cool. We are a cool industry but we don’t showcase it. And if we all came together and did one big thing like a TV advert, I think that would have huge influence on the amount of young people that want to join the industry.

To get away from those traditional stereotypes that surround construction, and come together to get a diverse workforce, I think we need to be attracting people through social media, you know, TikTok and YouTube. So instead of each company doing their own thing, wouldn’t it be amazing if we all came together and just did one massive campaign? So that was what it was all about, really. That is the dream.

Drew: Wow. Thank you. And across the sector, there’s been broad discussion about the lack of collaboration. Why do you feel this exists?

Lydia: I think that construction is always going to be competitive in terms of winning projects and having the best health and safety stats, and that’s good. And I guess a lot of it comes back to money and competition and who does what better.

But I think when it comes to equality and diversity and inclusion, it shouldn’t be treated the same way and companies shouldn’t be keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to diversity. We need to be collaborating and we need to be discussing, okay, what works best? What works best with a company attracting people that, that might have not worked in b company and having those conversations, those open conversations.

And I think it’s just people don’t want to open up because they’re scared of maybe backlash or people stealing other people’s ideas. And I think that’s just not the way we should be treating EDI. It needs to be a construction-wide, collaborative effort of sharing what works and how to make us better.

Drew: Lovely. Thank you. And would you agree that we have a tendency to focus on the lack of diversity when it comes to statistics in the built environment?

Lydia: Absolutely. I think I said this quite a lot at the UCEM event. Construction isn’t perfect, we know that. But we sell ourselves so short as an industry. And I think we paint this picture, you know, through statistics and data that we are really un-diverse and we have hardly any women in construction or trades. There’s so much data out there that’s negative and we do need to do better, but the data clearly shows that and the statistics show that.

But let’s change the narrative. I think instead of focusing on the negative, we need to be telling people exactly why they should be joining our industry and why it’s amazing and why they should be working in it. Instead of saying “we need you”, we need to change the narrative to say: “This is why you should join our industry. This is why we want you. Not why we need you.” Because they have the skills and expertise that they bring to the table.

And I think we have so many trailblazers in our industry that are proving that we’re moving away from traditional stereotypes, and we should be putting those people on a platform and telling their stories and not talking about the stats. We know they’re negative, but actually, we have people in our industry that are diverse, that represent the people that we want, and they should be showcased. Their stories should be told because that’s what’s going to attract younger people to join.

It’s not going to be reading a PDF document about how construction is going to become more diverse, or a five-year plan. It’s going to be stories and connection and having that personable relation to someone that’s  already in the industry that looks like you or is from where you’re from or whatever it may be. So yes, statistics are needed, but I don’t think that they should be solely focused on, especially when it comes to diversity in the industry.

Drew: Definitely. Yeah. I remember when I was first coming into the industry, I was going to find an example, like on social media of someone who was like me who’s doing the same thing. And I really struggled to find that to someone you can relate to can really help motivate you.

Lydia: Exactly. And that’s, you know, that’s so true. When I see women thriving in construction and I connect with them or I meet them at an event and they’re there to say, “I’ll support you – if you need anything, I’m there”, it gives you that sense of, OK, you know what? You’re a project manager, for example, and you have children. So if I want to be a project manager in 5-10 years and I want to have children, I can do that. And it’s having that person that you can look up to and relate to.

Drew: Definitely. Yes. And what is the CLC doing to counter the lack of diversity in construction?

Lydia: The CLC’s people and skills work stream has four main work streams. We have culture, competency, routes into industry, and future skills. My main focuses are really on culture and routes into industry, and that’s where diversity comes in.

And, you know, the groups are doing absolutely amazing things in the industry. The CLC are increasing apprenticeships and increasing the reach of the apprenticeship levy pledge. We’ve seen an increase of about 5% in apprenticeships over the last year, which is really good.

They work a lot with the CITB as well –  the Construction Industry Training Board – and they have, I think, something like 26,000 taster sessions they organise for young people. So giving them the opportunity to gain work experience in the construction industry, which is really beneficial for that stepping stone from having work experience to then getting a career in the industry. I think it’s vital for trying to get more people.

They also launched a fairness, inclusion and respect programme. One thing for me is that when people are in the industry, it’s about having that support from people so you don’t want to leave the industry. This fairness, inclusion and respect programme had about 3,000 companies being supported by the programme and it meant that loads of managers took training across 40 different courses. I think that’s really important because if there are people that haven’t worked with women before, for example, they might feel a bit awkward about how they speak to them. These training courses are really beneficial for creating that inclusive environment where everybody can work and everyone can enjoy where they work.

I think the main thing for the CLC is that it collaborates with so many organisations, industry bodies and governments to really address diversity and inclusion challenges across the sector. It brings so many different people together where we can share best practice and resources and expertise to drive positive change. The CLC are doing a lot of great stuff and in the next year what I’m wanting to do is get more young professionals involved in working groups to share their experiences and routes into industry. Hopefully it’s going to be a really good 2024!

Drew: Wonderful. Thank you. What needs to change to encourage more people from under-represented backgrounds to pursue a career in the sector?

Lydia: I think the main thing we need to change is how we encourage people into the industry. That’s quite a broad answer, but I think a lot of the stuff we do is very report heavy. We make roadmaps and playbooks and we make all these things that describe in depth how we’re going to encourage more people into the industry and improve diversity and all that good stuff.

But it’s all on paper. And realistically, are young people going to be reading these PDF reports and roadmaps and playbooks? I mean, no. When I was looking for a job when I was younger, I wasn’t going onto construction companies’ websites and seeing what they were offering. You know, when you’re younger, you hear it through people and you hear it through social media.

I think it’s really, really important that as an industry, we shift towards the now, the modern-day generation that aren’t wanting to read reports and roadmaps and playbooks. I think that people need inspiration and stories and they want that connection and someone to relate to.

If you’re someone who’s from an unrepresented background and you see someone from a similar background turning a drawing into a skyscraper, then you might think “I can be that person”. We need to just stop saying that we need more women or we need more people of a certain ethnicity and say: “You know, we want these people because look at people similar to you that are in the industry already and they’re doing amazing things”.

But also from my experience, another thing that needs to change is influencing the influencers. So how I said earlier about, you know, my parents and my careers advisor all trying to talk me out of going into construction and getting an apprenticeship, that that is a big issue that we have.

I think the best way to address that is we need to be, as an industry, visiting younger children and primary schools to maybe early secondary school to showcase who we are, what we do, tell them about the amazing professions that we have. It’s not just bricklayers and builders. We have designers and architects and so many amazing jobs, so many different things that you can do. You can do marketing and construction. It’s not just bricks and concrete.

So I think it’s really important for us to go to primary schools and say that at an early age because I think by 16 or 17 it’s maybe a bit too late because people at that age have maybe already made their mind up of what construction is. And going into schools at an earlier age I think will make a massive, massive difference.

Drew: Brilliant. Thank you very much. Yeah, I think as an industry we do have a lot to show off, I’d say.

Lydia: Yeah, exactly. So much to show off and we don’t shout loud enough about it. That really does need to change. We all need to be more positive and share more good stories. Exactly what, you know, UCEM are doing where you take a picture at one of your projects to say, you know, I built this because that’s the amazing thing about construction. You’re part of a team that builds something for people to work, live, dance, drink and you’re creating these spaces and then one day you can walk past it with friends and family and say, “I was part of the team that built that and I know what was behind every wall and in the ground”. That’s amazing! It’s a super exciting industry to be in, but unfortunately we just do ourselves down.

Drew: Definitely. Yes. So thank you Lydia for today. We’ll be back soon with another podcast.

Lydia: Fabulous. Thank you for having me.

Aysha: Thank you for listening to the Be Part of the Change podcast to find out more and get involved with the campaign. Google “UCEM Be Part of the Change”. If you’d like to get in touch with our student ambassadors for EDI email