Building the next generation of construction professionals

An innovative programme is giving second-level students hands-on experience in the contemporary construction industry

26th January, 2020
Building the next generation of construction professionals
Pupils at Terenure College in Dublin take part in Class of Your Own, a construction industry-led programme which allows them to design their own eco classroom

The construction industry needs reimagining – and it’s starting at the grassroots.

The built environment is an industry often overlooked on the CAO application due to a lack of understanding of the construction industry. The mission of Design Engineer Construct and Topcon is to break down those barriers and create a better understanding of working in the sector and what the changing technical roles of the future involve.

“Largely, young people have this perception of construction engineering as more trade-focused. You talk about construction and suddenly a lot of schools, in particular academic schools, don't see it as particularly aspirational because they think it’s all about manual labour. That’s as far from the truth as you could imagine.

“This is really a short, sweet pilot program to inspire and influence these children to think about what they could be, in terms of contribution to the construction industry, from a technical-professional point of view,” said Alison Watson MBE, founder and chief executive of Class of Your Own.

“We are a technologically advanced industry and we’ll be contributing hugely towards the climate change agenda. We are one of the dirtiest industries in the world – and it's only the influx of young people with fresh ideas around a more sustainable construction industry that will solve the climate change problem, so the more the merrier. I hope lots of young people will be inspired by the work at Terenure College to actually do it themselves across Ireland,” says Watson.

Pupils at Terenure College in Dublin have been taking part in Class of Your Own, designing their own eco classroom and giving students the opportunity to sample the many technical roles involved while thinking about sustainability in their local community.

“The students are broken up into groups, and they all have different kinds of roles and responsibilities. Some are the architects, some are landscapers and collectively they have to come up with various ideas of what they think meets the needs of the clients – the deputy and the principal of the school,” said Nigel Wearen, teacher at Terenure College.

“They go through an 11-week program.Doing this, they're basically learning different career paths, different career options, and different stages in the design and construction of a building. And that's where industry comes in, where Topcon comes in. At the early stage of the process, the students have to survey, and Topcon comes in and surveys the land with the students. They're using all the various different bits of equipment and they're getting an insight into the industry and how new technology is being used.”

Jonathan Argue, training specialist, Topcon Positioning Ireland visits the secondary school to demonstrate how the Topcon tools would be used in the process, from the GTL 1000 laser scanner to drones for aerial mapping.

“The session at Terenure was the first time we had delivered the course to secondary-school students and we were really impressed by how receptive and engaged the students were. We believe that education is vital in shaping the next generation of design, engineering and construction professionals.

“Through a project-based approach, DEC applies purely academic subjects to the latest construction industry practices. Students on the course gain real-world practical experience and employability skills, opening up the world of possibilities presented by a professional career in construction. I brought in one of our drones to demonstrate how technology can support and make workflows more efficient on the construction site, which of course got the students excited!”

While the course, in its entirety, is a 30-week course, the adapted 11-week pilot programme is on its second cohort of students.

Nigel Wearen at Terenure College said: “We want to give students real insight into what the industry is like, rather than them being solely guided by parents who have their own ideas or experience of what the industry used to be like. The course gives students a holistic insight into the building and design process, as well as creating an awareness of current and emerging careers in the construction sector.”

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