We need more diversity in the construction sector

The construction industry is missing a trick by not making the most of the skills on offer from women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, explains housing consultant Tamsin Stirling

29th June 2016

The construction industry is missing a trick by not making the most of the skills on offer from women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community,  explains housing consultant Tamsin Stirling

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Welsh construction, like Welsh football, is enjoying something of a resurgence right now.

But, just as in football, the headlines are dominated by men.

That may not be a surprise, but it does not portray the industry as an economic sector that is attractive to women – or indeed anyone not fulfilling the usual male stereotype.

There is absolutely no reason why construction across the UK should not be making the most of skills from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, sexual orientations, male or female. But that’s not currently the case.

Women account for 11% of the industry’s workforce

Women only account for 11% of the construction industry’s workforce, but just 1% of onsite workers. While the number of women pursuing apprenticeships has increased over the past 10 years, only 2% of construction apprenticeships are filled by women.

The site environment can be hostile for anyone who doesn’t “fit in”. But the issues go deeper than that. Capital investment in construction tends to benefit men over women. Major capital projects such as the South Wales Metro and Swansea Tidal Lagoon (all excellent ideas and needed by the country) are male-dominated in terms of those who will work on the developments, whether in design or construction.

Contrast this with decisions to cut spending on services such as education and social care and on welfare, which tend to disproportionately impact on women as they are more likely than men to be employed in these sectors and/or use these services.

In much the same way, while many construction schemes in Wales seek wider community benefits as a result of education and influence by Constructing Excellence Wales and its stakeholders, those gains are not always felt in the same way by women.

Driving change

So what can we do? Fortunately, initiatives such as Women in Construction are driving change in perceptions right across the industry.

But positive change is only happening in pockets of excellence. We need broader action.

Welsh construction could do well to follow the example set a number of years ago by Bron Afon Community Housing, whose initiative ‘It’s a Girl Thing’ provided women-only taster sessions on various aspects of construction aimed at attracting women into the industry.

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) organised a survey to determine who you think is the most inspiring woman engineer in history to coincide with National Women in Engineering Day 2016.

Chwarae Teg

The star initiative, though, is the Women Building Wales programme led by women’s charity Chwarae Teg, NPTC Group of Colleges and Women in Construction. It offers women interested in construction careers a place on a fully-funded 12-week ‘Introduction to Construction’ course.

For women looking to further their learning after the course, a series of apprenticeships, work placements and additional training are on offer, with the ultimate aim being employment in the industry. It was launched in February – but how many people knew?

Just as in the delivery and procurement of construction projects, we as an industry need to think holistically about the people we work with, the skills they have and their potential. Figures show that Wales will need thousands of newly–trained engineering and construction-related professionals and skilled trades–people over the next decade.

Diversity in boardrooms allows for more challenge and therefore better decision-making – why shouldn’t this apply in a building site or project context? Because of a different life experience, women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people are often not aware of opportunities or feel that certain occupations are not for them.

There is talent out there to be tapped. Listening to what women and other underrepresented groups have to say about what would encourage them to work in construction would be well worth the time, even if the detail is uncomfortable to hear.

 Published at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/special-features/we-need-more-diversity-construction-11541681