Millennials and the construction industry: Opportunities to learn

Kiabi Carson

Director of Human Resources, North America

An interesting thing is happening in the workplace, it’s being taken over by millennials. In the USA, the millennial generation became the dominant one in 2016; globally that moment will come around 2020.

More has been written about this generation – born between 1981 and 1996 – than any other, not all of it positive. We hear that millennials are purposeful, responsible, that they care about the environment and the impact they have on the world, yet they are sometimes labelled as narcissists or entitled.

Those that look for negative behaviours among this ambitious generation are overlooking the value they can add through their approach to life and work.

The millennial mindset is the missing piece in a jigsaw that brings together themes the construction industry has been attempting to pursue for years, if not decades: collaboration, sustainability and care for the environment; the power of infrastructure to raise communities out of poverty, and the value that buildings and structures add to society.

Millennials and construction are on the same mission: to improve people’s environments and make the world a better place.

Time for change

The United Nations (UN) identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and many businesses have used these as a blueprint for how they should conduct themselves in order to improve the world we live in. They encompass goals from ending poverty; and hunger and providing clean water and sanitation to climate action and affordable, clean energy.

As a business, we identify strongly with many of the UN’s goals; initially we are focusing our efforts towards those where we feel we can make the most impact, including sustainable cities, communities and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

The goals of gender equality, good health and wellbeing, quality education and reducing negative impacts on the environment are themes that run through our ethos, and that of our peers and clients. As well as working towards these goals at a project level, it’s important to push for wider changes in approach.

The case for collaboration

If we are to build roads, mass transit, utilities, schools and homes that better serve communities, more voices need to be heard, and more people involved in the process. With more players, the need for collaboration to define and deliver shared outcomes becomes more important than ever. 

The good news is collaborative working appeals to millennials. They have been brought up in an environment where constant connectivity is the norm due to the rise of social media and the advancement in collaborative technology. That doesn’t only mean everyone sitting together in a room or open-plan office; there are broader applications. The millennial generation is uniquely positioned to harness the best outcomes in construction through their approach to collaboration and their understanding of technology.

One thing to be aware of is that, as an outcomesdriven generation, millennials may shun the processes and protocols that previous generations have so painstakingly set up. Managers from the Baby Boomers and Generation X must be open to new ways of doing things, new tools, new work styles and structures. They may have to relinquish some of their hard controls and give more attention to maximising value of projects for communities, the environment and ultimate end users.

A shared mission

The message that we, as an industry, need to emphasise is that millennials and construction are on the same mission: to improve people’s environments and make the world a better place. Input from the millennial generation will enable construction to transition more quickly towards an outcomes-based approach that delivers even more value for future generations.

This is not an attempt to put all millennials into a box, but to highlight some of the strengths they have already displayed in the workplace, strengths that cannot be ignored and are unique in many ways. Strengths that can have a profound impact on how built environments are delivered and sustained for years to come. One theme rings clear, if we are to achieve the delivery of more efficient, sustainable environments, we need to allow millennials, our future leaders, to disrupt our traditional ways of working.

Adelaide Botanic High School: A living lesson 

What better way to explain the impact of buildings to the next generation, than to create an exemplary one for them to learn in? This is the ethos behind the Adelaide Botanic High School.

Students won’t only learn about technologies such as rainwater harvesting and solar panels, they will see them in action in their school building. And they will also experience at first hand the powerful effect that elements such as sunlight, collaborative spaces and contact with flora and fauna can have on health and well-being.

Adelaide Botanic High School is the first vertical high school in South Australia and is being designed and built to achieve a five-star green rating from the Green Building Council of Australia. With a smaller footprint than a low-rise school, more precious inner-city land is preserved as green space for the pupils with a roof-top garden maximising outside space.

Read the full Adelaide Botanic High School case study

This content is part of the 360°View, issue 10

Go to the main 360°View, issue 10 page