The construction industry's going to need a lot of new blood in the next few years. By 2021, we're looking at another 230,000 new jobs opening up in UK construction. According to numbers crunched by the Construction Skills Network, that's going to mean 46,400 new apprentices needed per year. Any way you look at it, it's a numbers game - and strangely, it's starting to look like games might be the answer.

Back in the good old days, most kids' first encounter with the idea of construction came from building kits like Lego or Meccano. Those kits still exist, of course. In fact, Lego's probably bigger now than it's ever been. The thing is, the construction game's founded in new ideas, new technologies and new skills. A lot of kids these days have turned their creative attention to video games - and they've taken their love of building with them.

Minecraft, a little Swedish independent game by Markus "Notch" Perrson, has pretty much taken over the gaming world. It's got over 60 million players worldwide, and there's seemingly no stopping it. The rules are simple: there are basically no rules. You don't score points or beat levels. You don't chase the currents kings of the leaderboards. What you do in Minecraft is build and learn.

The basic idea is to mine for materials, then get stuck straight in with the construction work. Anything you imagine can be built with enough time and teamwork - and the communities working together can be huge. Despite the game's apparent simplicity, even things like functional machinery can be put together. It's caught the imaginations of educators and players alike, and it could be a major boost to the construction industry.

The Chartered Institute of Building was quick to spot the opportunity to get young people interested in construction. They've set up a series of yearly Minecraft competitions, setting goals involving real-world considerations like energy and land use. They've also started developing special educational resources, to be used by teachers to fire up pupils' imaginations. Microsoft itself is pitching in, through the launch of its Minecraft Educational Platform. It's basically a version of the game aimed specifically at schools.

As developments like Building Information Modelling continue to change the way the construction industry operates, new kinds of skills are needed. Games like Minecraft are great to teaching the basic of this new digitally designed world. More importantly, though, they could be that crucial first step that turns a flicker of talent or interest into a life-long career.

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