Building the foundations for the future

  • The construction industry should be treated as a viable educational route
  • Design Engineer Construct! (DEC!) combines academic and practical learning methods for great results
  • Early education will mean inspired and qualified people taking up roles in the industry in the future

Alison Watson is passionate about Design Engineer Construct! (DEC!) and what it can do to help ease the skills gap in the UK’s construction industry. She believes that educating students from a young age is key to this goal and below outlines how DEC! and the Adopt a School programme is working to do just that. 

Why are programmes like DEC! needed in secondary schools and further education colleges?

Initiatives such as DEC! – which apply academic subjects to construction industry practices using a project-based approach – allow children and young people to see the value and purpose of what they are being taught, especially when it comes to mathematics. I remember enjoying maths at school, but never really seeing the point. Despite the fact I enjoyed the problem solving of trigonometry, I couldn't figure out where I could ever use it as a career, and as such spent six disastrous years working in a bank just because I anticipated a degree of number crunching. It wasn't until I met a civil engineer in my twenties that I finally saw a purpose for trigonometry and Pythagoras Theorem! I've always been a big believer that we must introduce the world of work at a much younger age, much like the Scottish Government has done.

At the moment, only 50 schools out of a possible 3,401 state-funded secondary schools in England offer the DEC! curriculum – what needs to happen to convince more schools to participate?

It's not a question of convincing. Most schools are convinced that it's a good thing once they understand the huge opportunities afforded to their students in the industry. New teachers are naturally a little apprehensive when they start teaching DEC! but they soon get into their stride, particularly because the Adopt a School scheme, which provides industry support to schools across the UK, is in place to ensure professional support is on hand. 

How important is it that teachers understand how DEC! functions?

For me, teachers are the centre of the universe, and have the power to reverse all the negativity surrounding the construction industry. Support them while they go through a time feeling a little uncomfortable, and see them unlock transformational education that positively impacts the future of construction, and guarantees home grown talent.

The recent Industrial Strategy spoke about the importance of technical education. Does the strategy give enough support to programmes such as DEC!?

There is not enough support from the strategy. However, Laing O'Rourke, just as all the organisations who have joined forces to make change through the Adopt a School programme, understands that DEC! is not just a qualification ¬– it's a whole learning experience, and it starts way down in Key Stage 3, giving plenty of time for children to improve not just their knowledge of our industry, but also afford them a real opportunity to understand the application of STEM subjects, and improve their literacy and numeracy. 

What kind of support has the curriculum received?

DEC! not only has university support, but also massive official backing of the industry and was also selected by the Digital Engineering Technician Trailblazer Employer Group as a key curriculum for the new apprenticeship.

What changes would you like the Government to make in relation to built environment types of qualifications?

The Government is making changes in vocational education following the Sainsbury Review. Teachers tell me the only way to make DEC! stand out as an unequivocal choice is to make it an EBaccalaureate subject, or at least transform DEC! into an official GCSE and A Level, as opposed to an equivalent qualification. Neither proposal is likely to happen in the short term, as the Government is quite firm in its approach to vocational reforms. We need industry and universities to support more schools and give built environment education greater credibility. That way schools will have the reassurance they need. 

How many industry partners support the DEC! curriculum?

Not enough! We have so many schools that need adopting. DEC! is a great programme and offers the best chance we have of securing talent, locking young people's curiosity into an extraordinary industry with truly exciting career choices. Laing O'Rourke has proven that an instruction from the top provides great outcomes, and the workforce gains so much from the programme too. There’s no greater satisfaction than knowing that you, personally, have made a huge difference to the employability of a young person.

To find out more about DEC! and the Adopt A School programme, visit


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