Fred Mills, the co-founder of a construction YouTube channel with one million subscribers, talks to Construction News about how the industry can attract more talent
Construction’s inability to attract new talent has crippled the sector for years.
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with labour shortages looming, the issue is more prominent than ever. But how can the sector reach a wider demographic and convince people to consider a career in construction?
The answer, according to Fred Mills, is YouTube.
Mills is a former procurement manager at Osborne and the founder and managing director of construction YouTube channel The B1M, which has more than one million subscribers. He set it up in 2015 as an after-work hobby.
“I saw the worst of the industry,” Mills says. “I saw everyone pitted against each other, and I saw an industry that was quite misunderstood. So I started uploading videos, and they started getting a bit of traction. I steadily built the platform from there, through expanding the content, building the team, growing the reach.
“We had quite a slow start and got to 10,000 subscribers in August 2017, then 100,000 in mid-2018. It was kind of a slow hard slog at first, but then it really took off.”
As of April, the YouTube channel hit one million subscribers. Mills credits this to his mission statement. “I love construction and I want the whole world to love it too, and people are really connecting with that mission,” he says.
Mills believes that drawing people into the industry is as easy as showing them the exciting work that takes place. The key is simplifying it so people who aren’t construction experts can understand it better.
An introduction video to the channel, titled ‘This is The B1M’, features a voiceover describing construction as a sector that “isn’t good at shouting about itself, and isn’t good at celebrating what it does, and many of the talented and best young people don’t even notice”.
“I’m trying to take this industry beyond careers websites and show people how awesome it is. We need to ask ourselves how we can really bring more diversity into the sector and be much more pro-active in doing it”
Mills continues: “There is a lot of internal communication in the construction industry, and the way a lot of people talk to each other in the sector hasn’t really been put in a way that can be consumed by people outside the industry clearly.
“I think young people today don’t just want salaries and jobs, they want something that’s really going to make a difference in the world. I think the construction industry is the most powerful industry that can do that. It affects everyone’s lives, from the homes you wake up in to the infrastructure and buildings we use every day.”
Mills wants to make it easier for younger generations to find information about construction and understand it through a format they are familiar with and entertained by. He says: “If you want to make a difference in the world, this is the industry to work in, but we can’t expect people to go and look at sites and open construction papers and documents to see that. We have to put this exciting and compelling content on their newsfeeds.”
The ex-procurement manager likes to use big projects to grab attention. Recent videos have featured the £80m renovation of Big Ben in London, Los Angeles’ $5bn NFL SoFi super stadium, and Norway’s $47bn coastal highway, the biggest infrastructure project in the country’s history.
As well as profiling projects, Mills interviews graduates to ask how they found getting into the industry and offers routes into the sector, with one video even titled: ‘now hiring: the world’s greatest industry.’
Telling both sides of the story
Although he champions the industry as something that deserves a lot more praise and respect, Mills is also careful to address its problems.
“We don’t shy away from complexity and we don’t shy away from issues either,” he says. “We have covered topics like social housing and inequality, health and safety, and climate change. It’s not that we dumb it down, it’s just that we put it in a way that people can consider more clearly.
“I think young people today don’t just want salaries and jobs, they want something that’s really going to make a difference in the world. I think the construction industry is the most powerful industry that can do that”
“People appreciate that we tell both sides of the stories we report, for example we might talk about very impressive, well-engineered, incredibly thin skyscrapers in New York, but we also point out that they are owned by millionaires perpetuating inequality in design in the city centres, and that does get a lot of support in the audience.”
But there is one issue that isn’t as globally well received when talked about on The B1M channel. “I think in the UK and in the European market we all agree that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed and it’s just a question of how we deal with it, but in the USA that is not the case,” Mills says.
“If we do anything on climate change and construction we get quite a bit of heat on whether it’s even a thing to be talking about or whether it’s all just a hoax, which doesn’t even shock me anymore, it just depresses me.”
A change that will take more than likes and views
Mills is optimistic that the perception of the construction industry in the public can be changed to something more positive, but he is adamant that some things need to change within the sector too, and he admits that there are some less than favourable aspects of construction’s culture.
He says: “We do a lot of talking the talk but not a lot of walking the walk. We say we want race and gender diversity and we want lots of young people coming in, but then we have the Construction Leadership Council and all of them are white, two are women, and I think all of them are over the age of 40. It doesn’t really speak to the kind of industry we want to be.
“I’m trying to take this industry beyond careers websites and show people how awesome it is and how it can impact the world. We need to ask ourselves how we can really bring more race and gender diversity into the sector and be much more pro-active in doing it.”
The mission versus the business
When CN asks about how lucrative the YouTube business is, Mills laughs and says: “If I had a pound for every time someone asked me how I make money, I’d probably have made more money [than The B1M].”
The B1M is too small to be required to file its turnover and profit accounts to Companies House, with a group of just eight people directly employed, including Mills, and another four freelancers working with the team.
Mills says: “When I started, it was just me doing everything from coming up with the ideas, shooting the videos and distributing them, so I’ve been very lucky to build a team of people around me to help me make all that work.”
He explains that money is generated through a mixture of YouTube advertising revenue, brand sponsorship, and some bookings for speaking events.
“It’s not as lucrative as you’d think,” Mills says. “We’ve been reinvesting money every year since the start in 2015. We appear as a business, but I’m very mission-focused. I’m deadly serious when I say I want to fundamentally change how people see this industry on this planet, and I think the mission focus is what makes people want to watch.”
Average viewer is 36
Although Mills’s venture is encouraging young people to get involved in a career in construction, they aren’t the only ones watching his videos.
Mills says: “We’ve been really surprised actually, because you would think the audience would be all young people who are all about TikTok and Instagram, but it’s been a real mix.”
He explains that the average viewer of The B1M’s content is 36 years old, according to his YouTube analytics. “There is a big pick up with younger views, but there is quite a lot of the older generation watching as well,” he says.
“I have some videos where I have younger architects and engineers talk to me about what they find interesting about the industry, but I can also talk to my parents about what they find interesting.”