What I have learnt by interviewing leading voices across the Built Environment

7 min read | Gaelle Blake | Article | Department and organisation Leadership

interviewing leading voices

Building Futures: Career Conversations – round up

Sustainability is a hot topic within every industry right now, following the government’s pledge to reach Net-Zero targets by 2050, but one sector feeling it particularly acutely is construction. Why? Because, according to the CIC, the “built environment and construction sector accounts for 38% of global carbon emissions, and it has been estimated that globally we build the equivalent of a city the size of Paris every week”.

These figures are bleak. Contributing factors include the methods behind building operations, the actual materials used, the fact that existing buildings emit CO2, and a growing population – in fact, it’s expected that to accommodate the latter, the “global building floor area” will double by 2060. Leaders within the industry are working against the clock to figure out a way to reduce, and eventually eliminate, carbon emissions from the built environment – not for any green-washing purpose, but because it is now fundamental to the future of the planet.

We launched our video series, Building Futures: Career Conversations, back in January, to speak with business leaders within the built environment to learn not only about their routes to success, but also how their organisations are tackling imperative issues like sustainability and the journey to carbon net zero. Now our final episode has been released, we’re taking a look back over the key takeaways from the series…

Strategy and mindset

Many of our guests in the series said that the only way organisations within the built environment are going to see change is by setting out a clear strategy that makes a difference from the top down.

Amy Brogan, environmental, social and governance (ESG) director at CBRE, said: “Strategy, for me, needs to be a way to reach something that’s hard to get to, an ambition, a long-term commitment – it’s not a one-to-two tactical set of goals that a company is going to achieve, it’s a long-term aspiration.

“So many people at the top are talking a great game but they are not investing properly in it; they have not got the people at the top to make sure that they understand what change needs to happen and are brought into it to actually invest properly in everything along the decarbonisation journey. It’s changing their mindsets to be that longer-term solution and that longer-term strategy – that would really harness the biggest results.”

This was echoed by Sandi Rhys Jones in our first episode, who said: “We need to find a way of delivering in a sustainable way, but also influencing in a sustainable way.”

A joined-up approach across the supply chain is needed

The siloed nature of the construction industry was also cited as being something that needs to be adapted, so that each stage of each project is approached in the most sustainable way possible.

Malcolm Clark, MD of Baxall Construction, said: “The industry needs to change, it needs to do things differently. We've been, for too long, in a siloed operation in the built environment, with consultants and contractors and supply chain and all of these people not working together.”

Amy agreed. She said: “We need to now think about having ESG and sustainability budgets, having teams that really are harnessing the strengths and the opportunities, and that we're making sure that we disseminate that throughout the whole of the organisation as a purpose and vision – then it goes down into the supply chain as well.”

More diversity, more change

Not only is encouraging diversity within the construction industry the right thing to do, to better reflect the make-up of society, but with a diverse range of people comes a diverse way of thinking, and ultimately, could result in better solutions to the sustainability crisis.

Gaelle Blake, director at Hays, said: “We face, as an industry, the biggest societal problems that we need to help to fix like the sustainability of the planet, and how do we get to net carbon zero. We’ll only come up with the best solutions to those problems if we make it this feel like home [to everyone].”

Luke Ives, ED&I manager at Arup, agrees: “If you're a woman, or if you're from an ethnic-minority background, or if you're disabled [for example], there are greater barriers that you face, not just in our industry, but in society and in other industries, that we need to work together to break down.”

Noel McKee, trustee of the CIOB, believes the same. He said: “If someone is capable of doing an important role, or any role within construction, don’t judge them because of the way they dress, their race, their creed, their background, their sexual orientation. The industry needs to embrace people from all backgrounds, from all areas of life.”

Diversity doesn’t just include ensuring that people from all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, sexualities and genders are welcomed into the industry either – it’s also about making space for the younger generation to speak up and share their ideas, too.

Dr Sarah Williamson, technical director at Laing O’Rourke, said: “The answers are not out there. They will be developed by the younger generations. It’s about making sure that their voices are not just listened to, but acted on. And that the younger generations are given the opportunity to come up into positions of seniority and responsibility, because we need to be thinking differently.”

If you’re from an organisation that is looking to hire professionals within construction and property or sustainability, don’t hesitate to get in touch to see how we can help.

About this author

Gaelle joined Hays in 1999, and in her time with the business, she has led dedicated teams providing expert recruitment services for a wide range of sectors and professions. In 2018, Gaelle started her current role as UK&I Director of Hays Permanent Appointments, where she works with 800 Permanent Appointments consultants across the UK and Ireland. She helps organisations to find the talent they need to achieve their goals, and help customers to find the roles they need to move their careers forwards. In July 2020, Gaelle was also appointed as UKI Director of Hays Construction & Property, leading the 300+ recruitment consultants in the largest specialist Construction & Property recruiter in the UK. James is Director of Hays IT, Digital Technology and Project Solutions in the UK, Ireland and EMEA. Having joined in 2000, he is responsible for the strategy of Hays’ Project Solutions, IT and Digital Technology businesses, which includes IT contracting, permanent technology recruitment, resource augmentation and statement of work solutions across both the private and public sectors.

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