Career Choices in Construction

According to The Office of National Statistics the number of people employed in the UK construction industry is currently over 2.2 million. However, growth in the construction sector is restricted due to a lack of skilled people.

Many construction firms are working at full capacity and unable to take on new work due to a severe lack of talent.

There are a number of routes into the construction industry and the range of careers available is varied with many different occupations to choose from.

The three main routes into the industry are craft, technical and graduate. However, what people choose to do first is not necessarily what they end up doing for the rest of their career. Different occupations require different qualifications.

Options may vary depending on age and whether you want to study full-time or keep on earning while your learn.


The traditional route to entry for school leavers and people under 18. You can train and gain a qualification as you work through an apprenticeship or through another kind of training scheme. Once qualified in your chosen trade you can advance your career through further training leading to a technical, supervisory or management occupation.


You can train to technician level in the construction industry through an apprenticeship and study part-time. Alternatively you can opt to study full-time before joining the industry. Once qualified you can opt to do further training which may lead to a supervisory or management role.


You can study for a degree in a construction related subject, such as surveying or construction management full-time or you can study for a foundation degree part-time, perhaps while you are working in a junior management or specialist role.

Once qualified you can expect a high level of responsibility with the chance to progress further through by gaining membership of a professional organisation such as The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors or The Chartered Institute of Building.


There are over 400 Colleges of Further Education which offer courses in Construction and the built environment.


National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s), or Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ’s) are gained through a combination of on-site practical assessment and college-based work. You can achieve an NVQ while working and attend college either one day a week or by block release.


National Award, Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) and Ordinary National Diploma (OND) are technical qualifications that can be part-time or full-time. You could start studying your ONC at 16 and progress to the HNC or HND.

ONC’s tend to be part-time courses, usually lasting over two years. They are particularly suited to people who want to gain their qualification whilst working, normally in a trainee technicians role. You spend just one day a week at college and the rest of the week with your employer.


Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) are technical qualifications and can be part-time or full-time. An HNC lasts one-year full-time and 2 years part-time. An HND takes longer – 2 years full-time and between 3 and 4 years if done part-time.

Foundation Degree

Foundation degrees allow give people who are already in employment to undertake a programme of study in order to advance their careers. Some students may also undertake a Foundation degree when returning to work or changing their career.

Foundation Degrees are vocational, integrating academic and work-based learning.

A full-time Foundation degree course will usually take two years to complete whilst a part-time Foundation degree course may 3 to 4 years. They are the step below a degree, and are advisable if you want to enter into a technical, engineering or supervisory role.


A degree is usually studied at a university rather than a higher-education college and will take between 3 and 5 years, depending on the programme being studied and whether you take it full or part-time. A degree will be a lot more specific in study areas than vocational qualifications and will require more specific entry requirements.


Each professional institution represents a particular specialism, such as engineering, building or architecture. Professional qualifications show that you are capable and responsible. They can take up to two years or more as part of a structured work-based training programme and may include exams, depending on your existing qualifications.

Membership of a professional organisation at the appropriate level will be evidence of your abilities and an important badge of recognition for clients. You will also be more likely to be offered work overseas.

Professional training can be continued when you begin work, and can take a further few years. This can include workshops, work experience, lectures, essays and, depending on previous qualifications, possibly a final exam.

Once you have qualified and become a member of your chosen professional body you will be expected to maintain your knowledge by embarking upon a lifelong learning route, known as CPD (continuous personal development).

Some useful links:

Professional Organisations:


Hi I have an HNC in Construction Management, I’m currently doing my CIOB Construction Management level 4 so I can apply for my black CSCS card, currently I’ve got a gold card from my nvq 3 in carpentry and joinery.

I’ve worked as a carpenter and joiner for 22 years. I’ve just done my SMSTS course. I’m doing my first aid at work course this week.

My goal is to try and get into an assistant site managers position is there anything else you could suggest i could do to get there?

Not really, you seem to be doing everything right. Sometimes you just need a bit of luck to get your first role; having the SMSTS and First Aid makes it easier to apply for jobs that come up since these are the hurdles that trip most people up.

Don’t be deterred from applying for roles you think you can do. I see a lot of jobs advertised where they are saying you should have a degree, so many years experience and so on. Be assured, that ideal candidate isn’t going to be applying. You might be the best option but only if you put your hat in the ring in the first place.

I am a 31 year old scaffolder who has been working on a persimmons site for the last two years in a supervisory role. I also have an nvq level 2 in bricklaying and knowledge of carpentry. I am keen to study towards being an assistant site manager.

Which courses do I need to go for first? I am not sure whether to do my nvq level 3 or if i can go straight to nvq level 4. Also when is the best time to do a smsts course? READ MORE…

Short term I would do the SMSTS as soon as you can as well as a the 3 day first aid course. Neither of these qualify you as an assistant site manager but you’ll find it difficult to get your first role without them.

Getting your ‘first role’ is often a matter of just applying for assistant manager positions as they become available. Being the best candidate on the day counts more than anything these days and it’s often the quickest way to get your foot in the door.

Long term, I would recommend you do the HNC in site management or HNC in construction as this will give you the best grounding. And, ideally, I would do the CIoB Level 4 certificate with a view to becoming a full member.

Obviously, time and cost are limiting factors but the sooner you start the sooner you’ll get where you’re going.

Hi im a bench joiner 15 years experience level 2 city and guilds in joinery but want to go on to better myself. Iv applied for a civil engineering course but unsure of what doors that would open to me with my background. READ MORE…

Civil engineering is a different discipline altogether so your background is unlikely to have much bearing on the future. I assume you didn’t pick the course at random and had some thoughts as to why this would be right for you?

The course tutor or dpt head is probably the best person to talk to really? However, once you start you will find that from talking to other people on the course (many of whom will be feeling just as lost as you will be) that there is a world of opportunity you were hitherto unaware of.

As you progress and find your feet, you’ll find you have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others (as does everyone) and what you think about your future will be completely different to what you think now – in a good way, hopefully.

In short, if this is the course you have decided upon than go for it with 100% effort. Learning new skills and meeting new people is always daunting but the result is almost always positive in the long run.

Hello there, i have 10 year experience as handyman for last 2 years running my own Handyman Services,covering all kind trades. Now I am working in primary school as Site Supervisor, as i am interested to go up to be Site Supervisor in construction site, what NVQ or city guild courses i should to go to do this? READ MORE…

Site supervisor roles are generally tied to a particular trade so you’d be advised to pick a trade you’re most comfortable with and do the relevant NVQ for it.

When you’ve done this you can do the Level 3/4 NVQ Diploma in Construction Site Supervision

My son is in year 10 and shows a lot of interest into property/architectures. I have 3 questions
What is the future job prospects for site managers and other roles in this area. Is it something worth studying now? Will there be an increasing or decreasing need for it?

What will he need to study from sixth form which will lead to becoming a site manager Short/long term plan?

Is work experience in the field possible for his age(14) or what should he be doing now with his interest?

He is currently looking for work experience as they do in school and I don’t want him to waste the opportunity to gain experience that won’t add to his future goals. I want him to get his foot on the door as early as possible as it seems to be a “long” path.

Future prospects should be very good since there is already a dire shortage of qualified and experienced managers at all levels. As the role becomes more technically focused, the need for qualified people will only intensify.

Maths and English are generally essential with any science subject being advantageous.

Work experience is difficult because of the health and safety aspect but shouldn’t be a problem with an office base environment within, say, an architectural or surveying business.

It is a good idea to start young and should be advantageous in the long term.

I’m currently doing a Bsc (hons) in building surveying having finished my HNC at night last year. My current role is a site manager/contracts manager for a small company in the commercial and industrial sectors.

I come from a trade background in joinery. I am 42 now and I’m looking for advice of how gain work within the surveying industry whilst I continue my degree.

Do employers see the experience of a trade background as a positive? Also would my age be a negative factor? READ MORE…

Trade experience is a positive although employers don’t specifically look for this and, in some extreme cases, it can be a negative factor. Some, not all, large firms like to mould people into their way of thinking which is why they make a big effort to recruit younger graduates with no experience at all rather than older people with a background in the industry.

However, you shouldn’t let this put you off as there are now a lot of smaller firms that are really struggling to find qualified surveyors of any age and this is where you should concentrate your efforts. If I were you I would start contacting local surveying firms about getting some relevant experience.

Don’t expect the first firm you contact to bite your hand off though, it will take persistence but, eventually, it should lead to something.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors also have a student membership level and I’d advise you to join as soon as possible; working towards membership really needs to be your first priority.

Hi, I am 30 years old and have been in the military for the last 5 years. Zero site experience. Would I be able to get my foot in somewhere as a trainee site manager? READ MORE…

There are some schemes aimed specifically at ex-military personnel but it would still be difficult because there isn’t one single point of contact to get you started.

However, you could start looking at the MOD’s Career Transition Partnership (CTP) website

Also, Hire a Hero is a charity set up to help ex-forces make the move into civilian life and they may be able to advise further.

You could also try contacting some companies locally. It is a case of being in the right place at the right time, of course, but definitely worth a shot.

More information:

Baseline UK – Ex-Military Recruitment
Network Rail – Military into Rail

Hi, I have recently been offered a position at a uni to study part time for the HNC in construction management. I’m 30 years old, 10 years+ exp on site and am a nvq level 2 qualified bricklayer.

I want to become a fully qualified site manager, is this the best route into the industry? I understand it only gives me a white cscs card, I was going to study to do the hnc and then progress onto the CIOB in site management qual as it gives a black cscs card.

Once I’ve completed the HNC i will do the SMSTS course and seek work as an assistant or trainee site manager.

After completing the HNC you could go on to do the degree in site management; whether this would be worth your while though would depend on your circumstances at the time?

Personally, I think going the CIoB route is going to be your best course of action although it is possible to do both.

To do the SMSTS course requires no qualifications, btw, so I would do this as soon as you are able. I would also do the 3 day first aid course as well since the SMSTS and First Aid are now the two most common prerequisites for getting any kind management role.

I am currently studying an HNC in Construction and the Built Environment, part-time, over two years. I have no previous experience in the construction industry, but would like to go with something involving CAD/BIM.

I am not interested in a management role, and there are no architectural technology HNCs in my area, so I selected the generic HNC in Construction pathway.

Would it be possible to acquire a trainee/entry-level position within the industry with this sort of qualification.

Also, is there any advantage to having an HNC, if you are required to go on to do a full-time undergraduate degree in the first place, only with significantly greater student debt (having already spent the first year financing an HNC)? READ MORE…

The HNC is generally respected in the industry as a mid-level qualification that gives people a good grounding in commercial construction, it’s certainly advantageous to have it – especially in a design role where a broad understanding of construction techniques is essential.

Entry level positions are always available but depend a lot on being in the right place at the right time. The more places you contact, the better your chances.

A degree will always be an advantage but, for CAD/BIM role I would think experience and practical ability are far more important? In the right situation, further qualifications may not be necessary at all but, again, it is often a matter of luck.

I seem to have been searching the web for the last hour or so with no obvious results turning up regarding distance or online HND courses for construction management.
I find this a little confusing and frustrating and wonder how and why this is the case. I work full time and am interested in going into construction management and need a way of taking the first step.

How am i supposed to gain the valuable knowledge whilst I work? READ MORE…

Traditionally, people studying for higher level qualifications in construction were already working in the industry in some capacity. College courses were often run at night time, once or twice a week. Over the years, this changed as more people were starting their careers straight from school as management trainees and apprentices. Since most were sponsored by their employers it became common for courses to be run on a day-release basis only.

The unintended consequence of this is that those already in the industry, many of whom have unsympathetic employers or who are classed as self-employed, have found it near impossible to hold down a job and study at the same time. Those, like yourself, from outside the industry face similar difficulties.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that there is a critical shortage of suitably experienced and qualified managers in the construction industry and this situation is unlikely to change in the near future. Big construction companies are putting all of their efforts into recruiting people straight from school or University. The vocational courses they do support are role-based and require you to be already in a trade or management to begin with.

You will find some construction courses available to study online but they are not industry accredited and are really only useful for gaining industry knowledge which, outside the context of any associated job role, is likely to be not much help to you.

If you are determined to continue I would suggest contacting local construction companies and ask if they’d be willing to take you on as a trainee, just as a means of getting your foot in the door, and take it from there?

Also, to people in similar situations as yourself, I always suggest Health Safety as a way of breaking into the industry since you can realistically do the courses while doing some other job. The NEBOSH National Certificate in Construction Health and Safety is an industry recognised qualification and can lead to further opportunities. It’s not for everyone but there is a demand for people who have this.

See Also
Surveying site using a theodolite
Construction Degrees
Hard hat, boots and high vis vest
NEBOSH Health and Safety Qualifications