Women can solve construction’s skills shortage

A hard-hitting report commissioned by the Trust on women’s under-representation in construction and how to overcome it is published today by the Smith Institute.

The report was commissioned by the Trust as we simultaneously launch a year-long drive celebrating the achievements of prominent women in the sector and urging industry leaders to inspire more young women to follow their lead.

The Trust’s female-focused drive – under the banner Celebrating Women in Construction – is a constructive and positive response to the Smith report, Building the future: women in construction, which shows women to be woefully under-represented in the construction industry, accounting for only 11 percent of construction workers and just 1 percent of those on-site.

Identifying a looming shortage of skilled workers caused by an ageing construction workforce and the return to economic growth, the Building the future report argues that the construction industry should use this as a spur to address the gender imbalance and encourage far more women into the sector.

This will only happen, however, say the report’s authors, if action is taken to combat discrimination and inequality. At present barriers to women entering the industry include poor working conditions, poor image, long hours, discriminatory recruitment (including hiring through word of mouth rather than qualifications, not looking at women’s CVs, setting a higher bar), and persistence of a macho culture and harassment.

The authors put forward a number of suggestions to break down these barriers. These include: leaders within the sector doing more to champion the business case for change, an increase in mentoring and peer support to help reduce isolation and increase retention rates, Government providing specific funding and programmes to support women take up of non-traditional trades, and better careers advice and less gender stereotyping in schools.

Our Executive Director Christine Townley, said: “The industry has a great challenge overcoming the problems which our report vividly sets out. But equally, it now has a great opportunity to inspire and recruit the next generation of tradesmen, tradeswomen and professionals.

“Construction Youth Trust commissioned this report because we recognise the best way to meet this challenge is to understand the barriers that exist and how to overcome them, so that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to enter the industry and the industry capitalises on the opportunity to engage with hidden talent.”

A trained civil engineer, who practised in the industry for many years, she added:

“We also feel that one of the best ways to encourage more women into our industry is to show what women are doing. The contributors to this report come from all over the industry, proving beyond doubt that women can and do succeed in construction. We hope that this will bring about a sea change in thinking and in practice and inspire more organisations to join our mission to inspire, train and support the next generation of young women into the industry.”

“The industry is in constant competition for contracts and for people but it’s time we came together to champion women in construction – it’s time for ‘Construction PLC’ to change the perception of our industry. And it can’t be just women calling for change. There needs to be a call to arms for all in the industry to come together to inspire the next generation and to realise a truly diverse and sustainable work force.

“That’s why, as well as our Smith Institute-commissioned report, we also decided to launch our year Celebrating women in construction. We wanted the achievements of women in the industry to be widely recognised. But we also wanted to be realistic and acknowledge the barriers which exist for women to enter the industry. We at Construction Youth Trust know that there is a lot to do. We also know that the industry can and will support us and others who want to encourage young people into construction.”

As part of Celebrating Women in Construction, the Trust will be increasing the numbers of young women on its many action programmes, and will be reaching out to schools and colleges to demonstrate how supportive the industry can be for women at all stages of their careers and working lives.