COYO: Inspiring Young Minds to Close the Construction Labor Shortage Gap

October 7, 2019 Philipp Mueller

Across the United States and the UK a growing concern is taking hold amongst construction professionals seeking labor. In the UK, a recent report from Kier Group, the UK’s second largest construction company, identified a need for 400,000 workers across construction through 2021. The report also quantified that 140,000 workers are leaving the industry each year. A number that will only increase as the generation of baby boomers retire. 

Similarly, a US construction industry survey by Autodesk in partnership with the Associated General Contractors of America identified that 80 percent of contractors are struggling to fill hourly craft positions. The survey indicates this a critical problem that will only continue to grow into the future without direct solutions.

A key cause of construction labor shortage cited in both the UK and the US is a shrinking pipeline of new and qualified labor entering the construction workforce. The ability to cultivate young talent, educated on the most current technologies and challenges in construction, is a real and critical concern. Especially as traditional math and science programs have proven unable to cultivate a large enough pool of inspired minds ready to fill these jobs.

There is one creative solution, however, that is getting the attention of both educators and construction industry professionals. U.K. education consultancy Class Of Your Own (COYO) is addressing this issue head on with its ‘Design Engineer Construct!’ (DEC) learning program, creating a new and effective learning environment for students in the UK, providing a direct answer to this growing labor issue. COYO is exposing students to a STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) curriculum to encourage and recognize digital careers in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC). It is gaining traction as it proves effective at both inspiring these innovators of tomorrow and providing them with work-ready skills, helping to build a future workforce for construction.

What’s different about this curriculum? Imagine that your grade school asks you not to just prove you’ve mastered trigonometry in a standard exam, but rather asks you to apply it to design a new eco classroom environment? DEC is providing this platform to engage both the construction industry and local schools. It is aimed specifically at bridging the growing professional skills gap in the UK by inspiring children to “think like Engineers.”


COYO is Sparked

construction-labor-shortage-class-body-3COYO is aimed specifically at bridging the growing construction labor gap by inspiring children to “think like Engineers.”


Land Surveyor Alison Watson, MBE founded Class Of Your Own Limited in May 2009 to encourage students, teachers and parents to view careers in AEC as highly skilled opportunities through a creative, STEAM-based curriculum.

The program was inspired by Alison’s work as a surveyor on the British government’s ‘Building Schools for the Future’ program. Her work with young people led to the development of a workshop for a group of secondary school students in Lancashire, Alison’s home county. The success of the workshop, marked by the brilliant ideas and the enthusiasm of the students, sparked an idea to harness that days’ enthusiasm and offer a longer-term opportunity for more students. 

“We had a rather life changing “what if?” moment, the catalyst for Design Engineer Construct the most innovative, challenging and relevant secondary school curriculum development in recent years,” says Watson, now Chief Executive of COYO. 


COYO at Work in the Classroom 

construction-labor-shortage-body-3In day long workshops, experts work with students on the design of a new eco classroom environment


At St Ambrose Barlow RC High School, BIM professionals, architects and construction engineers work onsite with students. The curriculum was originally sponsored by Laing O'Rourke Construction, the firm that built the high school, through COYO’s ‘Adopt A School’ scheme. The company volunteers to work with students throughout the DEC curriculum, exposing them to industry-specific processes and technology like Autodesk Revit. This school has seen great success over the past 8 years with students now accessing higher education and employment in AEC fields.

Students conduct surveying exercises, learn about sustainability, explore topography, hydrology, geotechnical and ecology issues, working side by side with experts from industry. The effect is a growing perception for students that “I can do this”, as it generates an applied understanding of how their core learning is used in the real world. 

Another report of success comes from schools in Cambridge, supported by major contractor Morgan Sindall and local Architects, Landscape Architects, and Surveyors and Sustainability experts.

In day long workshops, experts work with students on the design of a new eco classroom environment. Students take on the roles of professionals, self-selecting technical roles as well as management, marketing and branding. The architects look at green buildings and renewable energy and materials, surveyors measure a school ‘site’ to understand orientation and space, landscape architects create designs that harness the local environment’s biodiversity and even the potential to grow food. All the while, the management team are brainstorming the project’s community benefits and learning what goes into marketing such a project. At the end of the day the teams present their research and drawings, pitching to judges for best project of the day. 

The teachers say the effects are profound - an endless stream of great ideas and great drawings that could have real-world application in the near future. 


Cultivating Industry and Local School Partnerships

construction-labor-shortage-class-body-1Working on real world projects gives students a real life view of high skill jobs in construction


One of the most inspiring things about COYO and the DEC curriculum is how it’s helping those who might typically be left behind academically by providing relevancy to core subjects. Celebrating its 10th year in existence, COYO is now graduating students into technical and degree apprenticeships and built environment and civil engineering degree programs.

Working on real world projects, using real world tools to tackle issues from improving their own school to designing off site-manufactured housing, office blocks and train stations, gives students a real life view of high skill jobs in construction. 

For industry partners that want to get involved, the COYO Adopt a School scheme provides a unique opportunity for academia and industry to work together for maximum impact with minimum investment.

Adopters commit to funding a minimum two year program of study by “gifting” DEC to schools and enabling hundreds of young learners to access recognized qualifications via partner TQUK STEAM Futures, a specialist built environment education hub of award-winning Awarding organization Training and Qualifications UK. TQUK STEAM Futures is the only organization to offer Design Engineer Construct! qualifications, offering bespoke awards for the future of Surveying, Technology, Engineering, Architecture and Management in the Built Environment and Infrastructure sectors. 

Through the support of the construction industry, schools will improve sector knowledge and enhance the quality of their teaching and assessment. Industry derived qualifications and support ensures that schools keep up with changes in technology and working practices. 

For industry partners, this provision of genuine corporate social responsibility is a real and meaningful investment in the next generation of architecture, engineering and construction professionals. An investment that will be required to address the growing shortage of such professionals available for the continued success of the industry.


Learn more about the program and see it applied in the classroom here:

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