Can PR save construction?

The Farmer Review, published in October, is depressing in many respects: not least for the fact that the problems it identifies have been discussed so many times before and simply become more pressing as time passes.

Just for the record, these are some the problems specifically identified in the report:

1. Woefully low (and falling) productivity - with construction being almost unique in its inability to capitalise on new technology and working practices to improve productivity.

2. A fall of 22 - 25% in the available workforce predicted within a decade, owing to a crisis in recruitment and retention - a situation which we may be less able to overcome by simply importing immigrant labour in the future.

3. A workforce where 42% are self-employed - leading to a fragmented structure that mitigates against innovation and change.

4. A model of delivering training and skills in urgent need of change.

Despite its "no holds barred" approach to challenges within the industry, the report does highlight some bright spots where innovation and collaborative working is producing tangible results: Persimmon for its enlightened approach to recruitment and training and Urban Splash for its technical innovation in delivering new housing.

If, as Mark Farmer suggests, the fundamental problem is down to a lack of recruitment and training then there is much that some really good PR can do to help the situation. My five top tips:

1. Celebrate our great achievements more. Crossrail is doing a great job in this regard: 11 out of 10 for their great PR demonstrating what an amazing engineering feat is being achieved and celebrating the people delivering it.

2. Influence the next generation.My daughter has recently complete primary school.She went on great trips: to the theatre, to art galleries, to children's farms. Never a factory or a building site and not a whiff of engineering or construction. Let's organise those trips - children remember what has impressed them well into adult life.

3.  Value our skilled trades. If a skilled bricklayer earns £1,000 a week: good for him. You could argue that what he is doing is more important than a week spent as a management consultant, financial advisor or footballer.

4. Act together. Construction accounts for 6% of our national GDP, one of the few industrial sectors to have retained its position (agriculture, in contrast, has fallen from 6% to 1%) in the post war era. If the sector could only join forces it would have enormous weight to drive change.

5. Stop confusing price with value.And yes, I do think that PR can help with that shift in mindset.

PR can do much in terms of advocacy and my agency spends an increasing amount of time and effort engaging with national press and social media to spread the word. There is much more potential out there to promote the successes of this vital and vibrant sector.

I have no problem with celebrating successes and cheering on examples of best practice, but am also under no illusions about some of the fundamentals.

The truth is that we are never going to attract and retain high quality people if we expect them to put up with poor working conditions. Freelance contracts sound great, but in reality what that means is no job security, no training, no holiday pay, no sick leave or pension. Would you regard that as a good career prospect?

Mark Farmer is right - we can't duck the issue any longer. We're on our own, guys. Make the industry one that our young people want to join or watch our infrastructure fall apart. It's our choice.

Posted by Anna Hern