By Prof. Charles Egbu FCIOB, CIOB President 2019/20

I am honoured, privileged and humbled to be taking on the presidency of a great and proud institution, that is the CIOB.

We’re living in a time of tremendous change, and construction is changing as well. There is much to be optimistic about but face it: these are stressful times.

No wonder mental health is one of our biggest concerns. The ONS found that the risk of suicide for low-skilled male construction workers was 3.7 times above the national average. More than a quarter of construction employees have considered taking their own life.

This is shocking, but the ingredients are there: on-site work is characterised by limited-term contracts, long hours, long commutes, time away from family. These are just a few of the conditions that can trigger mental health illness, and they’re supposedly “normal” in construction.

This is a huge problem, and that’s why I want to make wellness and mental health a primary focus of my Presidency.

Construction will not be the industry it wants to be until we improve the mental health of the people in it, and CIOB members can be the leaders in making that happen.

This is particularly important if we want to recruit and retain the millennial generation. In my university roles, I have worked with young people a lot, and I see a generation that is flexible and dynamic. They are smart and focused. They have great powers of empathy. But they won’t stick with something if there’s no motivation to do so. And they are particularly concerned about wellness and mental health.

I am seeing young people coming through the educational system, and it’s a stressful journey. No wonder that they are putting such high emphasis on working with organisations who understand the importance of fostering good mental health. But also it’s about helping these young people build resilience, to help them cope with an inherently challenging work environment.

We can do this by creating work environments that are truly inclusive and supportive. We can reward companies and managers who prioritise mental health of their teams. We can also create the platforms for mainstreaming discussion about mental health. The CIOB’s support for Mates in Mind is exactly that sort of thing. It’s all about starting the conversation about mental health in the workplace and challenging some of the stigma surrounding mental ill-health. I’m pleased that Mates in Mind and other similar initiatives are having a real impact. More people are talking about it.

To attract the millennial generation we also need to fully appreciate the desire for young people to be a part of something bigger than themselves and making a difference to the world. When you think about it, the CIOB is just that. We are tackling modern slavery. We are promoting social mobility. We stand up against poor quality building that threatens people’s health and quality of life.

So we are indeed a force for good, and I believe that by focusing on wellness and mental health, we can attract the best and the brightest of a new generation into construction.

At the same time, we demonstrate leadership in all the things that the CIOB is good at:

  • Professionalism – Establishing and maintaining standards for quality
  • Respect – Treating others fairly, and always looking at things from others’ perspective
  • Integrity – Being honest, true to ourselves, and true to everyone we work with
  • Development – Building competence through research and all types of learning
  • Equality – Being inclusive in how we treat people, and in all the workplaces we create

Taking the first letters of each of those spells PRIDE.

Pride is central to everything we’re trying to do. Pride will attract a new generation of construction professionals and ensure that everyone already in the profession is productive, ethical, and, most importantly, healthy in body and mind.