As you read this in the comfort of your living room, factory, shop, or office, consider the hands and minds that built it. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has been striving to become a Dyslexia-Friendly organisation, guided by the Dyslexia Institute UK.
This initiative led us to interview dyslexic individuals working in various roles within the construction industry. The diversity in people’s roles was striking. We spoke to senior site managers, quantity surveyors, builders specialising in listed buildings, company directors overseeing 30 employees, and more. Approximately 2.7 million people work in the UK’s construction sector. It is widely believed that the percentage of dyslexic individuals in this sector exceeds the UK average of 20%, primarily because the profession doesn’t require academic qualifications for entry.
The building you’re in might well have been designed and built by dyslexic hands and minds. Many individuals with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, or dysgraphia are attracted to jobs with low barriers to entry. Most interviewees expressed feelings of frustration and low self-esteem when recalling their school days. “I wasn’t diagnosed at school and I failed,” said one person. Another added, “I loved school, but I didn’t get any support, and it drained my mental health.” “School was awful,” said a third. Many reported leaving school with no qualifications, carrying only a damaged sense of self-worth.
Construction has offered many a way to overcome this negative start in life. “I was always the dim one in class, but now I run my own successful business,” said one company director. Another shared, “I hid my dyslexia because it was too embarrassing.” A common theme emerged: people’s careers and self-esteem flourished once they entered the construction industry. Many said that they were diagnosed and supported with their learning issues once they reached college or university. “The University of Salford was fantastic with me, very supportive,” one person explained. Modern companies also often have excellent attitudes towards their staff’s unique challenges. “My company paid for my dyslexia assessment, and they’ve been great about it. I think they recognise the positives a neurodivergent person brings to a building site. I work really hard for them,” said a senior manager.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Some mentioned that aspects of their dyslexia, such as organisation, filling in forms, or reading large amounts of text under time pressure, can still be challenging. That’s why the CIOB’s dyslexia initiative is so important. They are now modifying their qualification processes to encourage more dyslexic construction workers to enrol in career-advancing courses.
Many believe their dyslexia has been a significant factor in their workplace success. “I consider my dyslexia a bit of a cheat skill for designers and builders. It really helps me in team meetings to come up with new ideas and solutions,” said one. Another added, “I problem-solve on-site like nobody’s business!” A respected mortar specialist summed it up: “Dyslexic builders see things differently; they have more of a creative mind.”
Everyone agrees that the dyslexia initiative will make people less afraid of dyslexia. Mandy Mills, Head of Quality Assurance, and Jo Bennett, Senior Training and Development Manager at the CIOB, are committed to welcoming as many dyslexics as possible onto their courses. “I think the CIOB dyslexia initiative is brilliant. It will help people realise that dyslexia is not something to be embarrassed about,” said one enrollee, adding, “It’s going to make skills development more accessible. I love it.”
A big thank you to all the incredibly talented dyslexic contributors to this piece and to the thousands of brilliant, hard-working dyslexic hands and minds building Britain today.
Here are the names of some of the collaborators; however, some chose to remain anonymous:
- Robert White – Director, David R White Builders
- Matthew Weekes – Building inspector, NHBC
- Richard Gwilt – BIM manager, KIER Construction
- Charlotte Harper – Sales and marketing executive, FECIL
- Tom Hutchinson Century 33
- Grant Bradford – Project manager, KIER Construction
Roger Broadbent is the director of both the Dyslexia Institute UK and the Empowerment Passport.