Spotlight on Mideast Gen Z as global youth reject construction careers

America’s youth don't want construction jobs – with the Middle East potentially facing a similar problem, what’s next for short-staffed building chiefs?

Young engineering talent must be nurtured in the Middle East [representational image].
Young engineering talent must be nurtured in the Middle East [representational image].
Neha Bhatia, Construction Week.
Neha Bhatia, Construction Week.

Last week, it was revealed that young professionals in the US, are averse to working in the construction sector – but some of the Middle East’s youth can’t think of a better industry to build a career in.

A report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on 31 July stated that young people in the US “don’t want construction jobs”. The number of workers aged 24 or younger has “declined in 47 states since the last housing boom in 2005”, it was reported. In the US, “the share of young construction workers declined nearly 30% from 2005 through 2016”, according to the report.

These findings may be unsurprising to construction executives in the Middle East. Rajesh Kumar Krishna, chairman and chief executive officer of Beaver Gulf Group, told Construction Week in June that a construction-reticent new generation was one of the challenges he expected the sector to contend with in the next 12 months.

“The lack of enough skilled workers, and a narrow talent pipeline has added hurdles and costs to many [ongoing] projects. The new generation is not looking for careers in construction past generations did, [and this] will continue to cause issues as we seek to meet the industry’s growing demand [for skilled staff],” he said on the eve of his inclusion in the 2018 Construction Week Power 100.

CW's 2018 SKILLS GAP SURVEY: Mideast construction firms falling short on career development

Twitter users responding to WSJ’s story have cited the construction sector’s wages and lack of automation as chief factors that are responsible for the industry’s lack of appeal to the youth. Even Chinese electrical appliance giant Midea believes that tech uptake can improve youth participation in construction – but more importantly, Midea is backing technology to safeguard itself against a future where young professionals may prove even harder to employ for labour-intensive sectors – such as construction.

“Automation is a long-term strategy for us, and we think the future will be fully automated,” Peck Zhao, senior marketing manager for overseas sales at Midea, told Construction Week this June.

“Young people do not like working in a factory, so eventually you have to invest in automation. That is not just because of the low [production] cost, but largely due to people’s preference. More people choose jobs in an office environment than factories. So we are investing now for our future.”

The situation isn’t entirely bleak for regional construction just yet. Bayt and YouGov’s Fresh Graduates in the Middle East and North Africa study found that engineering – along with banking – tops the list of the most appealing industries “from a career point of view” for its 1,293 surveyed recent graduates, 21% of which held this opinion. At first glance, the number may sound insufficient in a region that is pushing the envelope of architectural and engineering excellence.

However, to avoid a staffing problem like the US’s, this 21% must be heard and nurtured by Middle East construction chiefs to ensure that the industry can appeal to the guardians of its future. 

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