Rethinking inclusive economic growth

With the language surrounding social value still evolving, Atkins’ Michelle Baker and Faithful+Gould’s Peter Masonbrook explore inclusive growth and attracting new talent to the industry. 

Michelle Baker, associate director of social value at Atkins, and Peter Masonbrook, head of social value at Faithful+Gould.

The language surrounding social value is still evolving, and there’s a great deal of confusion around what it means especially when we see terms such as inclusive economic growth (or inclusive growth). 

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (OECD) ‘Inclusive growth is economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all’, while the UN states, ‘sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress, create decent jobs for all and improve living standards’. 

It’s about creating social equality through job creation and the mobilisation of economies that will have a positive impact on communities and society on a local, national and international level. If you’re achieving inclusive growth, you’re adding social value. 

Before we can move towards inclusive economic growth in any meaningful way, it’s clear education and training is needed right across the sector, at every level.

What does inclusive economic growth mean for the engineering sector?

In a time of increasing economic uncertainty with the prospect of recession looming large, coupled with the cost of living crisis and the challenge of bouncing back post-pandemic - it’s clear we need to bring investment to the industry by targeting individuals from more diverse backgrounds. 

Huge transformation projects like those tackling the climate crisis will dominate in the coming years, and to successfully execute them, we need all types of skills, and all types of people. 

For the engineering and construction sectors to champion inclusive economic growth, the key starting point is to connect with the people and communities in which we are working to really broaden our reach, across cultural, socio-economic, educational and generational divides. 

As well as intensifying our focus on engaging with young people, we need to concentrate our efforts on communities with high levels of deprivation, high levels of unemployment and low levels of skills. 

These two sections of society are where we can create the biggest growth, generate the most social value and most importantly, make the best positive outcomes.  

How can we achieve inclusive economic growth?

A successful approach to inclusive economic growth in the sector relies upon the effectiveness of collaboration, communication and investment of both time and money, as per the ‘levelling up’ agenda. 

As part of our joined up approach at Atkins and Faithful+Gould, we tap into the knowledge and expertise of community organisations and local charities to help us connect with hard-to-reach sections of society, or those who may not engage in dialogue with engineering and built environment businesses directly. 

These community groups have some great contacts who they work with and who they trust.  

They’re able to connect with locals one-to-one and explain the work in a way we cannot. With their help, individuals are empowered to see how they can transfer their existing skills and build new ones, to support themselves and the wider community. 

It’s also a space where VCSEs (Voluntary Community Social Enterprises) can play a key role, particularly in the context of PPN06/20 and the need to embed social value considerations into UK government procurement.

A lack of diversity among new recruits to the sector shines a light on the near exclusive use of traditional recruitment techniques across the industry – and no doubt across many similar professions. 

Careers fairs and job ads on our website simply aren’t inclusive in their scope. We need to expand our digital capability and invest in smarter, more targeted recruitment campaigns to groups that wouldn’t even consider a role with us. 

We need to rethink how we work with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to find out exactly what students want from a career, and the sorts of communication they engage with best. 

Young people are looking for a different type of career and have different priorities than they did thirty years ago; they’re looking for green jobs and digital jobs that align with their values and skills. 

They care about the potential employer’s values, environmental and societal credentials aligning with their own. We need to listen and respond to what young people want and need, which requires research, flexibility, fresh thinking and investment.

The engineering remit is huge. We have exciting green and digital jobs in droves. We’re at the vanguard of climate resilience, we’re instrumental in driving down emissions and we’re transforming the built environment – all to make the world a better place. We have what young people want, and we need people with all kinds of skills and from diverse backgrounds to contribute to our important vocation. The issue is, people don’t know about engineering. 

Crucial to inclusive recruitment (and inclusive growth by proxy) is an understanding of the true breadth of what we can actually offer in our industry, among the types of people we want to hire, and across society more generally. We need to showcase the full range of roles we offer and highlight how we are making a difference. We need to challenge preconceptions and engineering stereotypes, and make working with us accessible and attractive to all.

The built environment sector needs a makeover, starting with an evolution of the industry’s public image through targeted and effective communication strategies that get the right messages to the right people. To do this we need to talk and work with local groups as these are the people who know what that message should consist of and how we target the right audience. 

To propel inclusive economic growth into business as usual, the whole sector needs to up its game and harness its collective power to work better and smarter through collaboration. As Liz Truss ushers in her new government, the focus on investment to support funding into local jobs must be a priority if the levelling up agenda is to have any meaning in those communities it seeks to serve.

Industry leaders like Atkins and Faithful+Gould have a responsibility to set the standard, but we need government support to formalise and mandate social value by rethinking policy and refocusing investment to underpin a revolution in social value. 

Michelle Baker is associate director of social value at Atkins, and Peter Masonbrook is head of social value at Faithful+Gould.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.