Women: the key to unlocking construction resources post-Brexit
Having worked in Local Government for over 18 years as a Chartered Surveyor and now as Managing Director for SCAPE Procure, I am no stranger to the challenges the industry can pose for young people, particularly women. However, with the appropriate level of education, encouragement and support from the government and industry professionals, positive steps can be taken to break down these barriers and increase the number of women in construction.
At present, the construction industry is facing an uphill battle; Despite project pipelines being arguably the healthiest they have been for quite some time, with an ageing workforce and a skills shortage at breaking point, the current way of working will soon become unsustainable. In the face of this, it is vital that the government secures the talent and skills the industry needs, which must include women.
Construction output in the UK has grown by almost 20% since 2012 and is a key contributor to the overall growth of the nation, which is set to increase by a further 28% by 2018. However, the industry’s potential is currently being held back by a growing skills gap. With 19% of the UK’s skilled workforce (the equivalent of 406,000 workers) set to retire in the next five to ten years and a severe shortage of young people to replace them, the outcome is clear. There simply will not be enough workers to meet demand and support the government’s ambitious plans for future growth in the UK.
This already worsening crisis may be amplified further post-Brexit, with the UK currently employing 100,000 skilled workers from the EU whose futures remain uncertain. Although these EU workers have been vital in boosting the industry’s capacity, outsourcing our workforce should never have been a replacement for training and retaining UK citizens. Now the industry seems to be paying for a lack of investment in its own future.
One way to narrow this gap is to address the unbalanced demographics that make up the construction workforce. At present, only 12.6% of the workforce are women. This is a huge under-representation, which if re-balanced, could contribute to solving the industry’s problems. However, until measures are taken to address and resolve this imbalance, the UK will struggle to deliver on its ambitious plans – the latest National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, for example, includes more than £500 billion of planned investment in economic and social infrastructure within the UK.
The barriers women face
So why do so few women want to work in construction? The widespread misconception that the construction industry is a male dominated workplace, where all roles are hands-on and physically demanding does nothing to remedy the situation.
However, this is far from the truth - In reality, it’s much less to do with hard hats, muddy boots and hi-viz and more to do with pre-fabrication and off-site construction techniques, which have little to do with the generic perception of a construction site. Even onsite, having women working there is no longer unusual, it is now widely accepted and encouraged.
These preconceived ideas about the industry and crucially the roles women play within it, could easily be solved by better educating young women about the variety of career options available. Schools should look to widen their students’ breadth of understanding about construction and encourage it as a viable career option for both boys and girls. Providing a wider range of information that is openly available to the public will also help guide those who are contemplating a change of career to consider the construction industry as one that offers a variety of engaging and rewarding roles. If these simple improvements can be made, we should begin to see a shift in perception and a subsequent increase in interest from women.
Increasing the attraction
Another way to help increase the attraction of the construction sector for women is to ensure that there are sufficient female role models in senior positions, providing insight and guidance to inspire the next generation. This will require construction companies to make a greater effort to have a balanced board and senior leadership structures, so that women can clearly see what their future in construction could hold. Business leaders should also look to promote more creative and appealing campaigns around their apprenticeship and graduate opportunities, to attract a diverse future workforce, with specific emphasis on the impact that young people can have on the built environment and the lives of the people who live and work within it.
One organisation that is committed to educating, training and inspiring the next generation that we support is the Construction Youth Trust, whose #notjustforboys campaign is driving forward the diversity agenda in the industry. Construction Youth Trust are working hard to change the misconception that construction careers are just for men, by actively introducing women to the hundreds of careers available and in doing so, they have been key to shaping the productive, skilled and diverse workforce that we need to future-proof the industry.
Images courtesy of Construction Youth Trust.
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