The Perception Barrier to Construction Careers

The Perception Barrier to Construction Careers

published by Dr. Mahrukh Khan, ConCOVE Tūhura Senior Researcher

The TEC through the Construction Skills Action Plan was formally tasked with construction sector growth and capability in 2018. There are many challenges in lifting and building the construction sector and among the key ones to address are perceptions around construction careers. An American psychologist, David Blustein states:

“Work has the potential to add a great deal of meaning and richness to our lives; at the same time, it has the capacity to wither our souls in a way that few other life activities can match.” (Quoted in Mann et al., 2020)

These words highlight the importance of a robust career guidance framework from education to employment. This also signifies the value to be gained from a similar push to changing perceptions around construction careers. The cabinet paper on Action Skills Strategy (2018) particularly reported on the “negative perceptions of construction as a … career” (p.3). According to secondary research, a robust education to employment pathway may mean that formative perceptions are shaped and promoted as early as in the primary educational years. This early perception-building work is also necessary because most children can begin to identify their gender between the ages of 3 to 5 years. More so, they can also see the stereotypical gender affiliations that society throws at them, like the gender divide between colours, behaviours, and even professions. Also, through societal behaviour, children are, without much effort, able to attach social prestige and importance to certain careers. Given that the work needs to begin early and aptly, what is it that can be done at the school level? This piece will offer some specific global examples and general insights that can help shape the NZ construction sector with characteristics that can directly impact the capacity and capability of the sector’s workforce. 

  • There is evidence across the world (Percy, 2020) around career-related ‘influence learning’ at the primary school level. This is especially pertinent in the case of construction, overwhelmingly deemed as not just ‘male-dominated’ but also one where the terminology of “school-leavers” is commonplace, signifying a not so first-rate career choice.
  • In the work of perception-building, the role of industry ambassadors is valued both at the primary and secondary levels (Percy, 2020; Mann et al., 2020). A formal network between schools and industry can ensure that “pupil’s aspirations, behaviours, and attainment” could be significantly impacted in the early years as has been especially shown in the performance of disadvantaged school children in the USA. Learners there, discovered their natural strengths in the primary subjects of Science, Math and English, and that knowledge becoming consequential in building their future career plans.
  • Significantly, research suggests that the frequency of employer encounters with secondary school pupils is another valuable means to building the capacity of the sector. More so, four or more employer encounters with secondary school pupils reduces their likelihood of becoming NEET (Education and Employers, 2021)
  • Industry role models to provide stimulation to aspirations around construction career planning. Research views role modelling as distinct, more hands-on, and offering specific career exposure and experience compared to ambassadorial roles. This is especially useful when it comes to secondary learners for addressing the “aspiration gap”, as the right influences help young people to build practical strategies towards their aspired career goals, in terms of where they are and where they need to be (Barrett, 2020).

All of the above, is based on the premise that we need our learners to have diverse labour market exposure—especially in the early years—exposure that goes beyond the immediate experiences of their family lives. If anything, this discussion highlights for us some specific ways the industry can get involved indirectly influencing the future NZ construction workforce development and also connect the career aspirations of young people with the job needs of our economy, precisely as RoVE aims. However, this needs to be a systematic and collaborative sub-system (McGee, 2019)—where multiple actors/stakeholders, employers, education, and government—come together to achieve desired outcomes with strong support and coalitions in place.


Mann, A., Denis, V., & Percy, C. (2020). Career ready?: How schools can better prepare young people for working life in the era of COVID-19.

Mayo Clinic. (2022, February 23). Children and gender identity: Supporting your child.

Green, B. (2016). Social Mobility and Construction: Building routes to opportunity | CIOB. CIOB.

Tertiary Education Commission. (2018, October). The Construction Skills Action Plan.

Key findings from our research. (2021, May 10). Education and Employers.

Mann, A., Denis, V., & Percy, C. (2020). Career ready?: How schools can better prepare young people for working life in the era of COVID-19.

Percy, C. (2021, November 16) Career-related learning in primary schools and improved attainment: Studies from the USA. Education and Employers.

Barrett, R. (2020, September 25). Balancing Aspirations – responding to the International Labour Organisation report. Education and Employers.

McGee, Z. A., & Jones, B. D. (2019). Reconceptualizing the policy subsystem: Integration with complexity theory and social network analysis. Policy Studies Journal, 47, S138-S158.

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