Solving the construction skills gap with women power?


It is a fact that there is a growing construction skills gap in the UK. Randstad CPE have carried out a recent survey suggesting that women could have a bigger role to play in solving the dilemma, which they explain here…

The construction industry is the strongest it has ever been since emerging from the last recession but a widening construction skills gap is threatening to derail this unprecedented growth, leading to a shortage of new homes and delaying important infrastructure projects.

However, women construction workers may be the answer to the impending crisis, potentially accounting for up to 50% of the additional million workers needed by 2020 to keep up with demand.

The UK population is expected to rise by almost 10 million over the next 25 years and 300,000 extra houses a year are needed to keep up with this demand. As well as changing the face of construction permanently and eradicating antiquated stereotypes, women could be instrumental in achieving those figures.

Shortage of skilled staff in certain sectors

The need for skilled construction workers is so great that 72% of employees say there is a real disparity between the work that needs to be done and staff available to do it. Put simply; there are not enough workers to do all the work which means certain key skills are increasingly in demand.

The UK construction workforce needs to grow by 9,650 workers a year to meet current targets with engineering particularly feeling the pinch.  Current figures estimate an extra 48,000 engineers will be needed to meet the expected population growth.

Other sectors are also facing skills shortages, according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), with one in eight employers reporting they didn’t have enough skilled workers in 2014. A further 4% said they were constrained by a labour and skills shortage, which is a significant increase on 2011 when just 1% reported similar problems.

More than a third of employers have experienced difficulties recruiting skilled staff with companies becoming particularly low on labourers, general operatives and wood tradespeople.

Firms are actively encouraging more women into the industry but there is still some way to go.

Construction has traditionally been seen as a very masculine industry, but the outlook for women has improved dramatically. According to a survey conducted by Randstad CPE, women now account for 20% of the entire construction workforce and this is expected to rise to 26% by 2020. To add to this, the number of women in senior construction roles has also leapt from 6% in 2005 to 16% in 2015.

From the government’s “Not Just For Boys” campaigns to UCATT’s “Women get Women” recruitment drive, there are a number of initiatives underway which aim to dispel lingering stereotypes surrounding the construction industry, and they appear to be paying off.

This year, almost half of female construction workers (49%) describe their employers as “very” or “extremely” supportive.

However, the number of women reporting some form of prejudice had actually increased from 66% to 74%, indicating construction companies still have some way to go before true equality is reached. Encouragingly, some organisations are working to change this statistic and are actively recruiting women at all levels. Vinci Construction is one such employer actively working to create an even, and more diverse, gender spread across all its departments.

Joanne Mercer, head of operational development, said:

“A focus on supporting female role models has seen us increase the proportion of women employees in professional and technical roles by 11% and across the workforce by 50%.

“There’s lots of research indicating that gender balanced teams perform better than non-balanced teams. We have launched positive initiatives in the last couple of years to recruit more women into our business, retain our existing talent and help them realize their full potential.”

Construction Youth Trust Executive Director, Christine Townley, added:

“The industry has a great opportunity to inspire and recruit the next generation of tradesmen, tradeswomen and professionals and we need to show them that women can succeed.”

The move towards better gender balance is, therefore, having a positive effect on the industry and many companies are now opening themselves up to a much wider pool of talent to choose from. What construction companies must do is to address the now rather outdated ‘macho’ perceptions to help solve a crisis in what should be a flourishing industry.

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Randstad CPE

Twitter @RandstadJobs


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