Original Research

Cultivating the soft skills of future construction managers through restorying construction workers’ career narratives

Adelia Carstens
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 12, No 1 | a335 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v12i1.335 | © 2016 Adelia Carstens | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 March 2016 | Published: 29 September 2016

About the author(s)

Adelia Carstens, Faculty of Humanities, Unit for Academic Literacy, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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 managers.
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’ skills.


career narratives; critical multicultural education; diversity; multicultural competence; narrative analysis; soft skills


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