Communicating is all about tailoring your key messages to the right audience.
When I started in education policy back in mid 2002, we soon realised how important this was. Within a few months we were meeting as a group of education experts and policy staff with the new Secretary of State for Education. He was a busy man, but already impressed with our first report on continuing professional development for maths teachers. We just needed to get home the key points rapidly and convincingly.
We all learned from that meeting and went on to produce other reports and have other meetings with Ministers. At the other end of the hierarchy are the students in our state schools in England, for whom politicians are tasked to provide oversight.
I spoke to groups of them this week at a school in the town where I live. They were teenagers, so inevitably there was bravado and shyness depending on their perceived status in the school. My constant message to them all was be passionate about at least one area of their life.
I realise now, having sat through some fascinating sessions at a Kent education conference today, that communicating with students involves engaging with school staff and parents/carers simultaneously.
Above all, this is a long term process which won’t necessarily produce immediate results.
Like writing and publishing a book.
The answer depends on what you mean by a builder.
At one time, many millennia ago, they would have been one of the most highly respected people in a kingdom of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia or Greece.
Since then the respectability of their role has been superseded by that of architects and engineers.
That’s not a bad thing in itself, in the sense that the world has many more professions nowadays and opportunities for people to shine within them.
However, the down side is that builders have accumulated negative press, particularly those unregulated ones who operate on the edges of the law, interested only in making a quick buck out of unsuspecting clients.
Regulation is one option, but not necessarily the best for society if imposed from above. The fact is, people all over the world will always want a cheaper quote for what can seem very expensive manual work to them.
Alternatively, more of them are trying out self-build for smaller projects. This is a good development as it helps clients to identify, and appreciate more, the skills required to construct something solid and long-lasting.
The biggest worry is that those populations living in regions of the world susceptible to earthquakes or flooding continue to seek the cheapest building option, even though they have chosen t0 stay where they are rather than move to safer ground.
This is why education about the built environment is so useful and why I hope my new book ‘Building Passions’ can somehow stimulate a wider interest.
As I write this post I’m sitting in a school sports hall trying to interest the kids in engineering careers.
The problem is they aren’t really attracted by the discipline.
Mention maths and that particularly gets the cold shoulder.
By contrast the person with the fluffy dog which anyone can stroke and hug is like a magnet to teenage boys and girls.
How does one compete with such attractions?
You could train an animal or perhaps a cute-looking robot to design and build a structure.
My preference is to face the stark reality of the fact that maths still scares people. We have to lure them in without them knowing.
Therefore, we can’t oversell the immediate benefits of the profession until they are on board with the direction of travel. This takes careful planning across the ages and stages of education.
I have blogged elsewhere about the role of parents in their child’s education and how this relates to undergraduate level once their son or daughter becomes a legal adult in the UK.
To me good parents and carers have always been the key to unlocking career progress for young people at an early age. They set up the opportunities by helping to keep options open for their wards. Teenagers then take it forward with help from qualified adults in schools, colleges and then universities.
As always the devil is in the detail.
But reading my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’ or Roma Agrawal’s BUILT may at least help get conversations started between parents and kids about the relevance of the built environment as a professional choice.
My former employer the Institution of Structural Engineers has revamped its website into something much more user friendly and welcoming.
Have a look!
It now explains structural engineering in simpler language to a global audience of experts and non-experts.
My key audience when I was there was young people. In fact I still feature on the revamped website in a blog post about an exciting programme getting teenagers into structural engineering and architecture.
There are plenty of students out there who don’t fully understand their university and career options. In many cases this may be fine, but for some it could also mean the difference between a happy life and one where you are struggling to find your niche.
My major piece of careers advice to anyone considering their employment choices is to use any reasonable and ethical means available to find out the truth about a profession – this may include becoming a member of a body or tracking down and speaking directly to graduates and apprentices within a sector. Fortune favours the brave and employers will reward initiative with an opportunity to prove yourself.
Finally, there are always second chances and I am currently grasping one for myself by writing my first book much later than I had hoped to. This won’t be my sole occupation but an important part of who I am. It took me a long time to get here but it has been worth it.
NB: the image of the Forth Rail Bridge in this post reflects one of the banner images on the IStructE’s new website and is the iconic 19th Century structure built from the same Arrol steel used on Tower Bridge.
Pink Floyd wrote a song about education back in the late 70s called ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.
The implication was that education was another brick or barrier in life that people had to get through, which together with many others built the metaphorical wall after which Floyd’s concept album was named.
I take a different view about modern education. It’s not about bricks any more. Even education and training on building things isn’t about bricks. Nor is it about complete blue skies thinking and creativity. It is about bringing together knowledge with skills to produce individuals who are occupationally competent. This is what happened with Sir John Wolfe Barry’s apprentices back in the 19th century.
They often came from privileged backgrounds with little practical experience but plenty of basic knowledge. This was harnessed through opportunities to work in a variety of environments: the drawing office, archives and out on site or in a factory or workshop setting. Many of them went on to become more skilled than their master: Sir Alexander Gibb is one who comes to mind.
This was real learning by doing. But it would eventually be taken over by an academic type of learning aimed at the legal and managerial classes or to supply staff to the research laboratories of the great universities.
Sadly we have had to go back and reinvent the wheel. I only hope it’s not too late to get young people enthused again by the idea of work-based learning.