BACKGROUND : In the construction industry, there is an increased awareness of the importance of
soft skills. However, no empirical studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of
pedagogical strategies in higher education to improve the soft skills of future construction
AIM : The main aim of the research was to explore how undergraduate students of the
construction sciences construe the identities of construction workers and whether their views
have been changed through their retelling of and reflecting on the career stories of these
workers. It was anticipated that the results would give an indication of whether the students’
‘soft skills’ can be improved through curricular interventions.
SETTING : The research was situated in a module on academic and professional literacy for
students of Construction Economics at a large residential university in Gauteng. The module
serves as an adjunct to a core module in Building Science.
METHODS : Theoretically, the article is underpinned by Critical Multicultural Education, and
methodologically, it is based on theories of narratives and storytelling. The primary instruments
of data gathering were students’ narrative reconstructions of the career stories of construction
workers that were gathered through personal interviews. The student narratives were analysed
using the qualitative data analysis program AtlasTi.
RESULTS : Four themes emerged from the analysis of the narratives – personal characteristics,
sponsors/enablers, challenges and agency – while the analysis of students’ critical reflections
on their narratives pointed towards an understanding that career success is determined by diligence and work ethics, rather than circumstances.
CONCLUSION : An important change that occurred in students’ perceptions about
construction workers is a realisation that successful workers are driven by an internal
locus of control and are not derailed by adverse circumstances. The changed attitudes go
beyond tolerance and reduced stereotyping. It is recommended that in order to deliver
well-rounded graduates to the construction industry, multiple opportunities should be
created in the curricula for modules focused on the acquisition of ‘hard’ as well as ‘soft’