Constructive Futures: Building a New Construction Industry

A highlight of my visit to UKREiiF in May was meeting mentors and mentees from Constructive Futures.

This Leeds based non-profit organisation sets out to empower young people and support them into careers in the built environment. 

There is already a shortage of workers in the construction sector and Pagabo Group, a sponsor of UKREiiF, has highlighted in a white paper that a large proportion of workers are within ten years of retirement age. In a world of constant technological change, new training programmes need to attract new candidates. The skills gap will never be bridged unless a wider sector of society is attracted.  

Neve told me she first encountered the scheme when working in accounts but looking for a change of direction. She attended UKREiiF last year as a young person seeking guidance. This year she is working for Dragonfly Consultants in York and was at the conference to mentor other young people. She said, “It has been a big change but a challenge I am enjoying.” Unlike many of the 11% female workforce in the secto,r she gets to go onsite: installing and checking on the placement and maintenance of equipment. She is training in the acoustics department and points out that her number crunching skills are still valuable in an industry that has become increasingly data driven. 

Over the three day even, 45 young people attended UKREiiF through the Constructive Futures scheme. Constructive futures received sponsorship for tickets, which normally cost £900, and branded T-shirts, lanyards and all meals for the students. I met young people who were studying at school, FE College, university and some who were already contributing to building our future in the workplace. They had the opportunity to attend specially organised workshops, which included planning exercises, as well as meet industry leaders, browse stalls and network with each other and people working in all parts of the real estate industry. 

As well as meeting up with assigned mentors from the industry, each young person was encouraged to go out and find a new mentor and then record a five-minute conversation with them. Claudio from Bradford College told me that the property developer he approached had told him ‘Don’t be afraid to ask’ and gave him valuable advice about how to approach people. We talked about how intimidating it can be talking to new people. He felt empowered following his conversation with a senior businesswoman. 

Natalie Sarabia-Johnson, who co-founded Constructive Futures with Jenny Kitchen, talked to me about the need to make ‘learning experiences real.’ Attending UKREiiF is just one way that the organisation develops this reality. Site visits, visiting speakers and mentoring are all utilised to encourage a diverse range of young people into the industry. 

Sarabia-Johnson has worked in construction for over 30 years: as an architect, lecturer and examiner. In that time, she has seen the industry change in many ways but believes the workforce still needs to become much more diverse. Kitchen, who worked in marketing before moving into construction 10 years ago, sweeps employers along with her passion to champion young people and their potential. They both understand that there are young people who have had to overcome challenges and need extra support to achieve, whether their barriers are related to their background, neurodiversity or the attitudes of others.

James Haigh, Business Development & Engagement Manager at Bradford College, talked to me about how Constructive Futures had helped him develop contacts with employers alongside offering opportunities to young people. I met up with him and the young trainees at Mumtaz Leeds, who were hosting Bradford 2025 during UKREiiF and where a lunch was held for everyone involved with Constructive Futures.  

Students and Team outside Mumtaz

The next day I met the trainees again at the Tetley who were hosting a lunch sponsored by Pro Tech Roofing for Constructive Futures. After time to network and eat, we heard from a number of industry experts. Paul Dawson from DESCO talked about building services and sustainability, making the crucial point that how a building is used is as important as how it is built. Kate Hutchinson introduced us to the Yorkshire Sustainability Festival which takes place between the 10th and 21st June 2024, including a two-day conference in Leeds. Finally, David McLean talked about his own journey from apprentice to running a successful commercial roofing company for over 27 years.

The event had encouraged all the young people to think about their futures. Olivia, who has just completed a BTEC Level 3 in Construction and the Built Environment at Bradford College, told me about her plans to become a Project Manager. She intends to take a gap year to extend her experience before deciding whether to follow an apprenticeship or university degree route. Attending UKREiiF had provided her with ideas about parts of the industry she would like to explore further. 

Likewise, Zach and Patrick from Garforth Academy were not sure which route they would take yet. In the first year of a T level qualification, they had been interested to find out about the variety of opportunities available in the sector. Their eyes had been opened to the diversity of jobs that exist within construction. Omeir on the other hand, who is just completing a level 3 BTEC at Garforth Academy, is sure that his future lies in electrical installation. He is keen to find an apprenticeship for next year. 

Vicky Schofield, a tutor from Garforth Academy, talked to me about how the visit to UKREiiF had expanded horizons, built confidence and developed the soft skills required to make you an attractive candidate. She had noticed how some of her students looked noticeably smarter on the second day than the first. Messages she had been trying to give them had suddenly become more meaningful. 

Constructive Futures is a company that should matter to us all. We need sustainable buildings and that requires a young diverse workforce to construct them. 


Natalie Sarabia-Johnson, Co-founder of Constructive Futures.

If you would like to find out more about the amazing work Constructive Futures CIC does, follow them on LinkedIn or contact the Founders and Directors – Natalie Sarabia-Johnston and Jenny Kitchen.

https://www.linkedin.com/company/constructivefutures/[email protected]

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