Christian Warden, engagement director for the Construction Talent Retention Scheme (CTRS), discusses the importance of showcasing the breadth and diversity of careers in construction and engineering
You started out as an engineering apprentice. What initially attracted you to a STEM career?
Actually, I started out wanting to be a journalist until my school careers teacher suggested applying for an apprenticeship instead.
Given that growing up in Coventry meant I was surrounded by manufacturing – particularly the automotive industry – it was a natural career path.
My father, a senior manager at Peugeot, was always talking about solving problems as part of a team – that appealed to me and sounded really exciting.
Besides, he wore a smart suit, travelled the world and had company cars! I thought all aspects of the STEM sector were like that. So it came as a surprise to learn that there was a wide variety of other opportunities.
Many of the issues have not changed, but the demand and type of skills needed have. We will always need to find ways to attract new entrants and to upskill and reskill existing workforces
What prompted the career move to more recruitment and skills-focused roles?
During my apprenticeship I became involved with the company newspaper and gradually worked my way into PR and external relations.
I then led areas of external relations in government relations and much of the discussion centred around skills.
Most people talking about skills were older and didn’t seem to represent my experience or views. While they were very rigid in their thinking, I realised that there could be a more flexible approach, so became more involved in supporting skills growth.
How have you seen the skills challenges facing engineering and construction firms evolve over the course of your career?
Many of the issues have not changed, but the demand and type of skills needed have.
We will always need to find ways to attract new entrants and to upskill and reskill existing workforces.
On top of that, we need to support higher level skills and management growth. These areas haven’t changed too much, but what is needed has changed beyond all recognition.
What is the most valuable career advice you have received and why?
Focus on where you want to be, what you want to be, and find a way. If I’d have listened to some, I wouldn’t have progressed at all. I’m glad I listened to others because the STEM sector opened up a whole new world.
It literally covers everything you do from the moment you wake until you go to bed – concept, design and planning right through to manufacturing, quality, marketing and sales – and all aspects supporting this process. So my advice is: don’t give up, go for it.
What one thing would you change about the industry to make careers in engineering and construction more attractive to young people?
Awareness. Awareness of the breadth and diversity of the sector from a much earlier age. There needs to be greater information, advice and guidance on ways into construction and engineering, as well as better access to wider skill routes and career paths.
We need to shout about the exciting aspects of the sector, whether it be F1, manufacturing the latest football boot or building the Shard.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in engineering or construction today?
Research and find what interests you most – the world is your oyster.
That is where platforms such as Talentview Construction, a free service offered by CTRS, are so crucial. It showcases early careers while supporting organisations in the construction industry as they look to attract young talent.
I would look at different types of engineering and construction. Someone telling you about it is different to seeing it, hearing it, and smelling it. Get work experience if possible, or tasters, and speak to people in that role.
There is no wrong direction in this sector. If you decide to change career paths, there are so many other options.