Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Debate: Bob the Builder

Children's television character Bob the Builder makes regular appearances at events around the country promoting construction, not just to the under fives but all age groups. But does he make people want to enter the industry?

This week we ask: Is Bob the Builder a good role model for construction?

Yes Graham Watts, chief executive, Construction Industry Council

Can Bob fix it? Of course he can, and that's the point! Thousands of pre-school children dote on Bob's every move. They know that Bob fixes things called buildings and he makes people's lives better. How can that not be a positive role model?

Some say that Bob's story lines give a distorted picture of the industry - 'it's not right that he isn't a quality marked builder, and really he should be a qualified electrician to do that job'.

But when we consider if Bob is a good role model it is pointless to ask the question from an adult or even an adolescent perspective.

Bob is for very little people (and some big people pretending that they have not yet grown up).

These kids may have forgotten all about Bob when they choose their future jobs, but if just one of them has had a career in building subliminally fixed from those formative, Bob-mania years then how can that be a bad thing?

I remember someone suggesting that the image of the industry would be greatly improved if a major soap devoted a story line to construction. Well, Coronation Street has been flooded with construction related stories in recent years. We had the exconvict cowboy builder who crippled his father by pushing him off a ladder on one of his sites, a property developer murdering his partner because he was cheating him by buying cheap, inappropriate building materials and so on. Compared with this, Bob is an angel - he is always respectful, rarely does anything but smile, triumphs over all adversity and his hard hat is permanently glued to his head.

What is more, I have met Bob in real life. Or rather, someone dressed in a Bob suit, opening various construction events and underneath the foam, surprise surprise, 'he' is always a woman! Now doesn't that make him the perfect role model?

No Professor John Bale, chair of the Council of Professors of Building Engineering & Management

'Can we fix it? Yes we can, ' says Bob the Builder. A wonderfully positive slogan for an industry obsessed about its poor public image. But is Bob the right person to help us fix our perennial recruitment problems? I do not think so.

I was pleased when Bob appeared on the scene. I have met countless 'Bobs' - people who care about their clients and employees, and contribute vigorously to the welfare of their communities. I want small children to set out in life with a positive view of construction - rather than a negative 'builders from hell' view of the industry.

Bob the Builder has certainly helped us at the primary school level - although I suspect that small children have always seen building as something worthwhile and interesting. But sadly, as they grow up, the positive image wanes and negative perceptions flood in. Older school children start to see the value and challenges of other fields of work (IT, media, law and healthcare) but the construction industry never quite gels as an adult image of the complex and important reality of our work.

I do not believe that Bob holds out any hope of arresting the catastrophic decline in recruitment to degree courses in construction and civil engineering nor, I am afraid, do I expect much help from the latest set of CITB posters, with their sharp, materialistic imagery.

I am convinced we will not recruit into and from higher education until we get across the message that construction courses are good experiences in themselves; they provide skills of value in any career. That construction is a modern industry in need of able and creative people, and that what the industry does is vitally important to all the challenges of the 21st century - social, environmental and economic. The industry needs to begin to say these things - in voices that will be heard.

In short, we have to grow up - and leave Bob in the playground where he belongs.

The facts

Bob the Builder began on BBC television in April 1999.

The sixth series starts this autumn.

HIT Entertainment developed Bob the Builder to provide 'imaginative, entertaining and inspiring' themes for preschool boys and girls.

Set in a builder's yard, Bob and his gang of building machines - Scoop the digger, Muck the bulldozer, Dizzy the cement mixer, Lofty the crane and Roley the steamroller have developed a huge international following.

Five million books and 2.5M videos have been sold in the UK since 1999. Bob's theme song Can we Fix It? is the biggest selling single in the UK having outsold the previous record-holder, Elton John's Candle in the Wind.

Find out more at bobthebuilder. org and practise your radiator installation skills.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.