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Independent resettlement & recruitment guide for serving Armed Forces & Veterans




13 Sep, 2022

Lay a firm foundation for yourself with a future that’s safe as houses in one of the variety of practical and supervisory career options offered by a career in the construction industry

What does construction cover?

Construction is the UK’s biggest industry. Private housing, and especially industrial and commercial requirements, are expected to continue to be the main drivers for the sector over the next few years. Related trades vary widely and work in this field covers a huge variety of roles – from plant operator and bricklayer to surveyor. If you are a practical person, someone who is interested in how things work and are put together, why not consider construction as a possible way to build your ideal next career?

‘The house building industry has increased its output at the steepest rate for decades. It is recruiting and training tens of thousands of new people to ensure it can provide the high-quality homes the country needs.’

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman, Home Builders Federation

Who are the employers?

Most employees in the sector work in medium-sized companies (with 10–250 employees), with most of these on the smaller side – the vast majority employing fewer than ten people. On top of that, many of those working within the sector are self-employed, representing more than one-third of the available labour in the contracting sector. 

Transferable skills

Apart from a handful of people employed in units to carry out minor carpentry and repair jobs, and Army pioneers who have basic building skills, all three Services rely on the Royal Engineers for construction, including airfield and port repair and maintenance.

If you are an officer you may have a first degree in an engineering discipline, on-the-job training and experience, postgraduate qualifications and/or membership of a civilian institution. If so, your experience of managing engineering projects is likely to be particularly attractive to any future employer.

Alternatively, if you’re among those in the non-commissioned ranks, you may have completed anything from NVQs at level 2 in basic training and level 3 after higher training, to an apprenticeship.



For the lowdown on all the main building trades take a look at our detailed feature here


The CSCS was set up to help the construction industry improve quality and reduce accidents. CSCS cards are increasingly demanded as proof of occupational competence by contractors, public and private clients, and others. They cover hundreds of construction-related occupations so there is a card suitable for all roles (for example, ‘Craft and Operative’ cards include those for bricklayers, carpenters and joiners, formworkers and plasterers). 

Click here to find out more.

How do I get qualified for a career in construction?

Technical careers

Technicians generally make things happen by combining theory with practice. They can be qualified in any of the areas appropriate for professional and management careers, or in roles such as:

  • architectural technician
  • buyer
  • CAD operative
  • estimator
  • planner
  • plant technical support
  • roofing technician
  • site engineer
  • siteinspector
  • site technical support.

To start training and/or do a college course requires four GCSEs, or equivalent, at grade C or above, with maths, English and the sciences the preferred subjects. However, some people start training with A-levels and others qualify through craft skills (see below), often attending an FE college to gain, say, national qualifications. Still others enter with national certificates (NCs)/national diplomas (NDs) or vocational qualifications.

Craft careers

Craftsmen and women are the people who actually make things. Some major jobs for which they are trained include:

  • demolition – demolition operative – scaffolder – steel erector – steeplejack
  • interiors – ceiling fixer – dry liner – floor layer – glazier – painter and decorator – partitioner – plasterer – plumber – renderer – wall and floor tiler
  • plant – plant hire controller – plant mechanic – plant operator – plant sales person
  • roofing – built-up felt roofer – lead sheeter – liquid waterproofing systems operative – mastic asphalter – roof sheeter and cladder – roof slater and tiler – single ply roofer
  • trowel – bricklayer – construction operative – stonemason
  • wood – bench joiner – carpenter and joiner – formworker – shop fitter – wood machinist.

Many of these trades are learned on the job, but the construction industry also has training schemes that combine working and education to produce qualifications that the individual can build up over time to develop expertise in a particular area. For example, a plasterer might start by learning the basics of plastering walls, and go on to become an expert in ornate ceiling and wall decoration in expensive houses. Other people might build a portfolio in a number of skills to qualify them for supervisory and then general management roles.

There are also job roles in the area of building services, which covers the essential services that allow buildings to operate, while the heritage sector requires a wide range of traditional craft skills that have to be kept alive for the future by those who work on its historic structures. 

One example of current certification is the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) – a job card scheme introduced to prove the skills of plant operators. It’s administered by the NOCN Group and you can find further information here

Professional and management careers

Entry to the industry at this level generally requires academic qualifications. These could include:

  • national certificate (NC), national diploma (ND), Scottish vocational qualification level 3 – college qualifications in construction-related subjects such as building studies or construction and the built environment, which roughly equate to A-level
  • higher national certificate (HNC) or higher national diploma (HND) –college or university qualifications; HNCs are usually taken part-time and HNDs full-time; both can take two or three years to complete; people qualified at this level usually start as advanced technicians or trainee managers and work towards professional qualifications such as Incorporated Engineer
  • foundation degree – takes two years to complete full-time or three to four years part-time; provides entry to the third year of an honours degree 
  • honours degree (BA, BSc, BEng or MEng) – usually in subjects like civil and structural engineering or construction management – takes three to four years to complete full-time, and five or more years part-time; graduates coming into the industry usually join a specially tailored training scheme leading to professional qualifications such as Chartered Engineer or Chartered Surveyor.

Construction training options

As mentioned above, the construction industry has training schemes that combine working and education to enable the individual to build up qualifications over time and develop expertise in a particular area. While one person might start by learning the basics of a trade, and go on to become an expert in a particular part of it, another might build a portfolio in a number of skills to qualify them for supervisory and then general management.

CITB’s National Construction College is a network of colleges training and assessing construction skills throughout the UK. As noted above, it is increasingly becoming necessary to hold registration or certification of competence and/or training in particular aspects of building skills to obtain employment in the industry.

The industry has its own vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships, and a construction apprentice scheme for younger entrants. If you’re ambitious, you can start by gaining vocational qualifications in any of the trades while working in a craft career, develop your skills through technical training, perhaps gaining certificates or diplomas, eventually becoming fully professionally qualified, perhaps with a degree.

Whether you will be looking for something practical and hands-on (e.g. plasterer, joiner, decorator, surveyor) or would prefer to use your knowledge in a managerial role, we offer some general information below.

For painting and decorating, NVQ qualifications are essential in order to work on commercial building sites. However, they are relatively uncomplicated to attain, taking about eight weeks full time and 35 weeks part-time to reach level 3. Costs are around £600+.

New builds and rebuilds, both domestic and commercial, generally need the expert help of tilers – be it for basic wall and floor covering to something much more decorative (e.g. mosaics). Five-day courses lead to foundation skills and knowledge; full-time courses lasting four weeks lead you through the entire process of learning the skills to setting up your own business (including how to price for a job, communication skills, personal safety, workplace security and handling materials). Be sure to pick courses that lead to an NVQ/QCF/C&G accreditation, and expect to pay up to £1,700 for a four-week full-time course with accreditations.

It is possible to find a number of accredited courses for other building trades, such as the:

  • level 3 NVQ in Roofing Occupations (Construction) – Thatching, or Roof Slater and Tiler
  • level 3 NVQ Diploma in Heritage Skills (Construction) – Dry Stone, or Plastering Occupations (Solid).

Do check what your local college offers (although practical courses such as these do necessitate attendance, so you are unlikely to find distance learning options). The good news about training for these trades is that, generally speaking:

  • no prior experience or qualifications are required
  • the trades are particularly well suited to self-employment or starting a small business
  • it would be possible to widen your portfolio by training in two or three of these trades in a relatively short period – allowing you to market yourself as a ‘handyman/woman’.

If you are considering a major change-of-career route, then a Carpentry and Joinery Diploma, level 3, will give you an excellent all-round opportunity within the construction arena. It will take one year, full-time, to achieve (and cost around £3,000), and you will need to progress through, or already hold, level 1 and level 2 in order to attain this (which can take up to another year for each level part-time, and cost similar amounts).

Another committed change of career in an area related to construction could be to train as a technical surveyor (the person who supports chartered surveyors, architects and engineers) or a land surveyor (supporting civil engineers in the field). Such courses require study at HNC and HND level, respectively, which could take two years full-time and cost in excess of £4,000. Additionally, it may require you to have maths and science qualifications.

Managerial roles within the construction industry are ideally suited to those who already have a proven track record of leadership (and, as we saw earlier, there is currently a shortage of people to fill such roles). Opportunities are likely to include managing trades, contracts, procurement or even whole projects. A building/construction management course will help to hone your communication, numeracy and logistics skills in all areas, as well as bring you up to date with health and safety legislation and risk assessment regulations. A foundation degree in construction management could cost around £7,500 and take two years full-time or four years part-time to complete.

Finally, if you love architecture but don’t have the seven years full-time that it takes to train as an architect, then you might like to consider an office manager role within a practice. An Office Manager Diploma could help you brush up on a full and varied range of administrative skills, such as payroll, book-keeping, keyboard skills, HR and business law. The diploma could be achieved in seven weeks full-time, or by distance learning for approximately 120 hours, and is likely to range in price from £250 to £1,000.

The industry has its own apprenticeships and advanced apprenticeships, as well as a construction apprentice scheme for younger entrants. Use your favourite search engine to find out more, or click here to browse options near you

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to our in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website

To view a full list of construction training courses click here