Where It All Begins – Educating the Future of Construction

Using real-world learning to inspire young people and close the skills gap in construction.

Last updated: 15th December 2021

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Innovation Lead: Jo Dickson


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The construction sector needs young people to bring more diverse, digital skills to the industry if it is going to succeed in scaling innovation. But the future workforce, and wider society, do not have a up-to-date perspective on the roles and opportunities available in built environment and infrastructure industries. Class of Your Own is an education consultancy that has produced a film with CIH and CITB called Where it All Begins. It challenges some of these misconceptions and calls on the industry to help attract the brightest and best talent. Class of Your Own has also developed a learning programme called Design, Engineer, Construct! that shows young people the different career routes into construction. The course complements the national curriculum and connects young people and their teachers to industry experts and real world projects, so they can learn the right skills, access apprenticeships and find new jobs. For industry partners, it helps them find the best and most diverse talent as the industry pivots, and build a workforce to unlock new opportunities and contracts.

Innovation type: Skills
Organisation type: Innovative SME

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Project pioneers

Class Of Your Own (COYO) is an independent education consultancy and social enterprise, working with children, young people and their teachers.

The problem

Construction is digitising rapidly with cutting-edge innovation happening across the sector. To be able to adopt these new innovations at scale, the industry needs to draw on a more diverse pool of talent and skills to enable this transformation. But young people, as well as their teachers and parents, don't have an up-to-date view of the roles and opportunities available in the construction sector. The sector also doesn't yet value these skills highly enough to attract new talent to the industry. This is especially true of female students - the built environment industry fail to attract girls and young women in significant numbers. This bias against careers in construction starts early with Fawcett Society research finding that parents of nursery-aged children can picture 22% of sons working in construction, but only 3% of daughters.


This project has young people at its heart, helping ignite an interest in constriction and see how their skills could pivot a sector in the midst of a huge digital and technological transformation. If more children, young people and educators were to better understand the transformation happening within architecture, engineering and construction, they would appreciate the exciting challenges that exist within the sector, and see it as a place to unlock the potential of their skills. For the industry, it would be able to harness a new generation of talent to accelerate the transformation needed to create beautiful, healthy buildings and infrastructure which have positive social, environmental and economic impacts for the long-term.

Key Insight

In 2019, the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) commissioned Turner Harris to carry out research on future capabilities needed in the built environment sector. It highlighted a concerning skills gap, particularly in digital capabilities and in the operation and maintenance phases of the built asset lifecycle. The research pointed to a dual problem of people with digital skills not ending up in built environment sectors in favour of others that seem more hi-tech; and the simultaneous undervaluing of the digital skills of those young people entering the sector.

First step

COYO was formed in 2009 and aims to tackle skills gaps through Design Engineer Construct! (DEC!) - a progressive learning and development programme that connects students and teachers to real-world learning opportunities. Knowing how hard it can be for educators to embed industry-based application of STEM subjects into existing national curriculum, COYO started by making sure the course could be taught within the school timetable across all secondary school key stages.


The transformation in construction is reliant on new digital, design, engineering and manufacturing skills. If the sector continues to rely on traditional skills and an ageing workforce, it will struggle to adopt the innovations needed to accelerate this urgent change.


Class of Your Own (COYO) has developed partnerships with organisations such as Balfour Beatty, Mott MacDonald, Turner & Townsend, Bentley Systems and Topcon Positioning. COYO has collaborated with the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). As part of its goals, CIH wants to future-proof the industry through collective innovation and skills development. CITB is the industry training board for the construction sector in England, Scotland and Wales and works to help the construction industry attract talent and to support skills development, to build a better Britain.  CITB's Go Construct website provides resources around the full range of technical and engaging roles that a career in construction offers, and the professional institutions where young people and their families and teachers can find out more about roles in the sector.  COYO also worked with a range of built environment professional institutions and other influencers who supported and shared the film amongst their members and contacts. 

  • Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick
  • Bentley Systems
  • CITB
  • Class of Your Own
  • Construction Innovation Hub
  • Mott MacDonald
  • Topcorn Positioning
  • Turner & Townsend

Lead support

The Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub) is funded by the Transforming Construction Challenge and Innovate UK. Class of Your Own has benefitted from its network of partner schools and industry ambassadors and together they produced the Where It All Begins video for young people to think again and consider the opportunities that a career in construction might offer.

Long Term Vision

DEC! helps young people and educators better understand the transformation happening within architecture, engineering and construction so they consider it a sector where they can unlock the potential of their skills. This will help construction harness a new generation of talent and accelerate the transformation needed to create buildings and infrastructure which have a positive social, environmental and economic impact for the long-term.

Human Stories

This project has young people at its heart, and aims to catalyse their skills to pivot a sector in the midst of a huge digital and technological transformation. It equips them with the knowledge, confidence and ambition to develop their skills and their career and connects them to organisations that can offer employment and training opportunities. The stories of Lauren, Johan and Matt who have completed the DEC! programme are great examples of how it can inspire young people to get into design, engineering and construction.

Powerful Processes

DEC! is sympathetic to the national curriculum and sits alongside STEM subjects. It gives student knowledge, skills, behaviours and competencies around skills needed in the built environment sector, including the use of industry-standard digital tools. It offers excellent pathways into further and higher education and the workplace; it provides access to academics and leading employers who provide insight and expertise to teachers and learners; and it helps young people gain apprenticeships and university places or progress into professional jobs.


Design, Engineer, Construct! (DEC!) seeks to encourage diverse routes into construction by raising the profile and broadening the appeal of careers in construction, while giving real-world experience and insight about the opportunities, and challenges. DEC! is a through-school learning programme with accredited qualifications at Levels 1, 2 and 3, and is available for schools in the UK and internationally. It has been designed to emulate the more traditional and rigorous GCSE and A-level design technology structure, with an exam at the end of each of the three levels and the attribution of UCAS points at Level 3. COYO aims to ensure DEC! is accessible and inclusive by integrating the programme into school timetables at an early age. It is taught from Key Stage 3 of secondary education as part of the whole school curriculum. normalising the built environment as an industry that everyone can participate in. Designed to sit alongside and complement STEM subjects, it provides students with wide-ranging knowledge, skills, behaviours and competencies, including the use of industry-standard digital tools. Pupils can then make informed choices at GCSE and A level option time. The level 1 foundation programme can also be used for post-16 education to re-engage learners who have found traditional academic routes challenging, or as a vehicle to introduce the built environment to adult learners from different sectors. DEC! offers excellent pathways into further and higher education and the workplace. Recognised and respected by universities, professional bodies and leading sector organisations, it feeds naturally into sponsored advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships. It is also hugely beneficial for those wanting to study full time before entering the sector, giving new undergraduates a clear advantage to hit the ground running in their subject choices. A key strength of the programme is that it is both supported by and provides access to academics and leading employers who provide insight and expertise to teachers and learners. This support from leading, digitally-focused, globally-recognised organisations gives schools the reassurance that young people are learning knowledge and skills fit for a modern industry. It also means that those students undertaking the DEC! programme have been able to gain apprenticeships and university places or have progressed into professional jobs. To further support this, COYO has also introduced an Adopt A School Scheme which means schools delivering DEC! are supported individually by industry partners and that teachers are trained using industry standard practice. So far companies like Balfour Beatty, Mott MacDonald and Turner & Townsend have taken part. The scheme enables employers to provide direct curriculum-based interventions to support DEC! teachers in the classroom and develop a rich pipeline of built environment professionals. Technology partners including Bentley Systems and Topcon Positioning Systems also provide access to software and hardware to explore reality capture, use of sensors and digital modelling technique. Numerous other industry partners have provided ambassadors to go into schools running the DEC programme.  COYO has received additional support from Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to promote the programme and highlight a career in construction careers through the Where it all Begins campaign. The campaign both encourages children and young people to consider construction careers and it demonstrates to parents and teachers that the construction sector offers a range of interesting technical roles for young people.

Regional Balance
Class Of Your Own was established over a decade ago to level-up the Built Environment as an exceptional career choice for young people aligning with government initiatives such as the Towns Fund. The programme meets genuine social value objectives, hits the Gatsby Benchmarks in schools, and offers extensive pathways into apprenticeships and higher education. It provides young people with unparalleled knowledge and skills that sees them work-ready by the time they are 16. The Where It All Begins video was filmed in Liverpool and was supported by a number of local political stakeholders including the Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, who provided a quotation supporting the campaign. She said: “Construction is an area that is getting better in terms of diversity, with many organisations working hard to improve representation in terms of race and gender. I am hugely passionate about ensuring people regardless of their background aspire to and have access to the best employment opportunities, so I very much welcome the work that is going on locally with schools, pupils and parents to make a difference.”