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Career Advice

How to get started with your career in construction

Written by

Joe Aubrey

Date posted

23 March, 2020

The construction industry is facing a recruitment crisis, with an estimated need for 168,500 workers over the next five years. On top of this, the industry is in the grips of a skills shortage which is expected to worsen over the next few years. Of the 15 key trades within the construction industry, 40% show skill shortages.

The UK’s construction workforce is ageing. Over 20% of current workers are over 50 and 15% are in their 60s. Young people are not choosing a career in construction and, according to L&Q, fewer than 1 in 10 young people would consider this career path.

With such a high demand for workers, there’s never been a better time to start or further your career in the industry. In this guide, we will explore some of the ways you can increase your prospects and get a head start in your construction career.

The Basics - Get your Green CSCS Labourer card

A labourer is an entry-level position in construction, but it is a good way to learn more about the industry and gain valuable experience. Unless they are trained in a specific trade, many people start their construction career as a labourer.

If this is the route you want to take, the first thing you must do is get your Green CSCS Labourer card. Having a valid Green CSCS Card shows that you have knowledge of health and safety in the construction working environment, and it is a prerequisite to working on a construction site.

To apply for the CSCS Green card you need to have passed two separate Health & Safety courses. One of these must be either:

  • The RQF Level 1/SCQF Level 4 Award in Health and Safety in a construction environment, or
  • the SCQF Level 5 REHIS Elementary Health and Safety Certificate.

In addition, you will also need to complete the CITB Health, Safety and Environment test. There are alternative qualifications accepted by CSCS, so for more information visit the CSCS website.

Additional courses to help you get more work

There are lots of risks associated with working in construction and health & safety standards in the industry are extremely high. If you are working through a construction recruitment agency, the chances are that you will need additional qualifications or certifications to carry out certain jobs.

There is a range of different courses and qualifications available that can be obtained through the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), or other training providers. Below are some of the most valuable qualifications that can help you to secure more work and even earn better rates.

Asbestos Awareness 

Completing an asbestos awareness course will demonstrate that you understand the principles, hazards and risk of exposure to asbestos, as well as how to avoid work activities that may lead to disturbing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Asbestos Awareness is relevant to a wide range of industries and occupations, including Electricians, Joiners, Roofers & Plasterers.

An asbestos Awareness certificate is a requirement for many jobs available through construction agencies, so completing this course can open up your options when seeking a role. It is quite straightforward to gain an Asbestos Awareness certification. There are many online-based training providers that deliver the course online, and it is available at a very low price.

First Aid at Work

This course ensures that you are trained in First Aid at Work and will be able to provide first aid or support in the event of an incident in the workplace in accordance with HSE legislation. It is recommended for those working in a hazardous environment and is valid for three years.

Completing a First Aid at work course is a great way to stand out from other candidates, and you should definitely include it in your CV. The course is usually delivered in person in a workshop-style format over 1, 2 or 3 days.

Working at height

As the name suggests, a Working at Height Training Course will teach you how to act safely and responsibly when working at height. You will be taught how to comply with the Working at Height Regulations (2005), including how to undertake an appropriate risk assessment and how to correctly use and assess equipment.

Working at height is required for scaffolders, roofers, those using access equipment, as well as a number of other professions. You can take the course online for a relatively low price. Once completed, it will remain valid for three years. 

Get a CPCS Card

If you work in construction, getting a CPCS card (Construction Plant Competence Scheme)  is a great way of improving your prospects and increasing your earnings potential. A CPCS card is an industry-standard, showing that an individual is qualified to work as a plant operator.

According to Total Jobs, a plant operator can earn an average annual salary of £32,500, which is significantly higher than the average salary of a labourer (£20,536). Getting a CPCS card may require more time, effort and cost than the other qualifications mentioned above, however it could be far more beneficial to your career, especially when you consider the current skills shortage.

There are two different types of CPCS Card available (unless you want to become a tester). The first is the red Trained Operator card. To get your red card, you need to pass a CPCS theory and practical test at an approved test centre. A red card is valid for two years and you need to meet very specific criteria to get it renewed.

The next step is to get your Blue Competent Operator Card. The blue card shows that you are competent to operate a specific type of plant and that you have real-world experience and advanced health & safety knowledge. This card is valid for 5 years, and to renew it you need to pass a renewal test and show proof of ongoing practical operating experience, for example with a logbook.

For more information about the CPCS card scheme, visit the NOCN Job Cards website.

Apprenticeships

Doing an apprenticeship is a classic way to get into the construction industry. An apprenticeship is a paid position with an employer where you receive training on the job and gain a qualification. If you’re looking to start a career in construction or move into a different area, this is a good option as it allows you to earn and learn at the same time. In some cases, your employer may take you on full-time once you finish the apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are available in almost every field in construction, including:

  • Plumbing
  • Electrics
  • Bricklaying
  • Painting & Decorating
  • Carpentry
  • Joinery
  • Site Management

As with anything, there are upsides and downsides to apprenticeships. While they may be an excellent option for some, they may not be suitable for others.

Advantages of Apprenticeships

  • You get paid whilst you learn new skills and gain experience.
  • You may get a full-time position once your apprenticeship is complete.
  • You gain a recognised qualification.

Disadvantages of Apprenticeships

  • The minimum wage for apprentices is lower than the normal minimum wage.
  • Sometimes employers prefer to hire under 18s as they are cheaper to employ. If you are over 18 this can be a disadvantage.
  • Your experience of your apprenticeship can depend entirely on your employer.

A number of apprenticeship positions are advertised on the GOV.UK website, so have a look and see what’s available.

Get more experience and some good references

Not everyone has the opportunity to study for qualifications or undergo extensive training. If you fall into this bracket, there are still things you can do to increase your prospects and help you get more work through a construction recruitment agency.

Firstly, the more experience you have, the better. In some cases, experience can outweigh qualifications. An experienced construction worker will be able to anticipate and quickly react to issues on-site, and this is a very desirable skill to employers. Get as much experience as you can, on different types of site, with different employers, and in different roles if possible. This will help you later down the line.

Another thing you can do is get some good references. A construction recruitment agency will always check references before taking on a new construction worker, so make sure yours are good. A worker with a small number of excellent references will always be in a better position than a worker with loads of average ones!


We hope this guide has been useful. For career advice, help and information on job opportunities, get in touch with Coyle today or subscribe to the Coyle Journal for the latest news and advice.

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