Becoming a Future Leader in the Built Environment

01 Mar 2021

To celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week, we are spotlighting members of our Future Leaders' Forum: a group of future leaders for the built environment. 

Hear Mila Duncheva, lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University's Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structure, face of Offsite Ready and chair of the forum, discuss what it means to be a future leader.

What is the future leaders' forum?

We are change makers.

We are a group of 12 early career professionals and students who aim to promote the development of new skills, competencies and opportunities in the sector to inspire the future workforce of the construction industry in a way that will benefit the sector for years to come. Our backgrounds are varied but we do have one thing in common – we have all been proactive in finding opportunities to drive innovation in the built environment and are keen to give the next generation of future leaders the same head-start.

Emily Carr, our Vice-Chair, has travelled the world to bring home best practice in renovation and diversity. Aisling O’Reilly, our Vice-Chair, has passionately promoted climate action alongside making people’s homes more energy efficient and driving sustainability in the University of Edinburgh’s campuses. Rory Doak, our Head of Engagement, is a Champion of Change graduate from the Built Environment Exchange at Edinburgh Napier University who travelled to Malawi and applied knowledge he gained from Scotland to construct sustainable schools which utilise less of the precious timber in Malawi. I, Mila Duncheva, am honoured and thrilled to be the Chair of our collective of innovators.


Why is this a great initiative for the built environment?

Did you know that In the U.K., construction demolition activities represent more than a third of all waste generated? Each year 400 million tons of materials are used in construction, of which 100 million tons are wasted, and 25 million tons are sent to landfill. Globally, construction and demolition waste is set to double to 2.2 billion tons per annum by 2025.

To change our waste-generating male-dominated built environment we need people with innovative and proactive mindsets. The only way we can achieve this is by passing knowledge, skills and inspiration down the line. This is not only a great initiative for the built environment but a necessary one.

We can learn a lot about personal responsibility for sustainability, digitisation and creativity from the young people in the built environment. All of these are key ingredients to curing the lethal disease, as Mark Farmer put it, that has taken over construction - resistance to change.


Why did you want to be part of the forum?

Because I know what it feels like to send hundreds of applications to employers, hoping to make a difference in your first built environment job, only to find out that nobody wants to shortlist you for an interview. I know what it feels like to be a young person whose creative ideas are seen as a liability.

And I know how thrilling it feels to finally find your first opportunity which catapults your career in a meaningful direction. I was lucky enough to facilitate Offsite Solutions Scotland near the start of their formation, thanks to the trust in my abilities by Prof Robert Hairstans, Prof Fiona Bradley, Calum Murray and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre.

I want others to experience the same mentorship, confidence boosting and career acceleration.


What can businesses gain from future leaders and apprentices?

We are experiencing an acute shortfall in skills in the built environment – not only in the traditional crafts apprenticeships, but also in the new knowledge and skills that are needed to innovate. Businesses who support future leaders and apprentices future-proof their business models by ensuring that they will have the people with the skills and mindsets needed to scale their business.


Is this a good time to join the built environment?

This is the best time to join the built environment. We have ambitious net zero goals to achieve together, we need to drastically improve our productivity and we need to reduce the waste materials generated in the built environment. Now is the time to join the built environment if you want to make a real difference to our society.

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