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06th Apr 2021
Dr. Jessica Borg and Christina M. Scott-Young, Associate Professor at RMIT University
The low retention rates of early career professionals in construction has been lamented in the construction industry for some time. As more young professionals hand in their resignations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be a good time to ask ‘why’?
In certain sectors of the construction industry such as project management and building surveying, the demand for qualified and skilled professionals has never been higher, so the question remains – why are we seeing so many young people leaving the industry?
We conducted a large qualitative study entailing in depth interviews and focus groups with Australian early career project management professionals and industry employers, with the objective of exploring transitions into the construction industry.
A shocking finding emerged – only 25% of early career project managers could see themselves staying in the construction industry beyond their first five years of working there. This prompted further research into the question of why this was happening.
It comes as no surprise that the industry is more challenging than most; it is an industry in a constant state of change due to a culmination of factors including economics, labour resources, market forces, emerging technologies and government regulations. It is also known that individuals experience shock and stress during their initial transition into work.
However, the findings of our research reveal it is not poor workplace transitions or the dynamic nature of the industry that is driving early career professionals out; it’s the culture of the industry itself. Early career professionals revealed that lack of work-life balance, high stress associated with their job and frequent experiences of bullying are causing them to leave their jobs.
Yet, industry employers continue to brush off responsibility for low retention rates in their organisations, blaming it on a new generational trait that sees people leaving their organisations in search of a bigger paycheck. In an economy already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with talent shortages in construction, brushing off low retention rates and early employee departures is something that the construction industry cannot afford to continue to do.
Australia’s success in negotiating an infrastructure-led economic recovery from COVID-19, makes this a critical issue to solve now to support sustainable and healthy careers in construction. Moreover, for the sake of the workers in construction, we need to ensure that the industry is conducive to their health and wellbeing. For the sake of the economy, we need to ensure that the construction industry continues to attract and most importantly, retain professional talent.
Recent shifts in the industry have seen increased support of underrepresented minorities within construction, including women, yet true inclusivity is yet to be realised in the industry.
Our study reveals that the industry is still a hostile environment, where poor workplace behaviour such as bullying is still tolerated and is very much a reality of the construction workplace environment.
We posit that it is not enough to ‘name and blame’ the industry culture as the key contributor of low retention rates among early-career professionals. The results of our study enabled the formulation of evidence-based practical recommendations to drive changes aimed at improving the low retention rates of early-career individuals in construction.
What construction industry employers can do:
What early career professionals in construction can do:
The construction industry cannot thrive if its sought-after skilled professionals continue to leave after a few years in the industry; employers can no longer continue to ignore the low retention rates in their organisations. The culture of the industry itself needs to be more conducive to the inclusivity and wellbeing of construction workers.
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