Here, Jane Bulmer, Director at Cleveland Containers discusses how we can start to encourage girls from a young age, to consider a career in construction
Only 14.5% of construction workers are female, and that drops to a shockingly low 2% amongst skilled manual trades. With 39% of manual workers across all industries female, the construction industry continues to lag behind – with figures remaining stagnant since 2014.
Calls for change have been made before, but with no real results. If we don’t start to attract more women into the sector now, then we won’t be able to progress.
Generating nearly £90 billion a year, construction is one of our country’s largest sectors, employing 2.93 million people – equating to almost 10% of the country’s workers.
However, with 22% of the workforce aged 50 and over, and 15% in their 60s, the skills crisis is about to become even more problematic if changes aren’t made. Currently, one-fifth of all construction vacancies remain unfilled, with employers unable to find workers with the relevant skills, experience, and qualifications.
There is a real need to encourage more young people to start a career in the sector, and to make a concerted effort to start attracting women. The only area of construction that is bucking the trend is heritage buildings. 40% of manual workers who restored York Minster were women, which proves the skills and interest is there.
So, the question remains: how do we get girls to consider construction as a viable career option?
Teach fundamental skills in early education
Children are easily influenced from a young age – their upbringing and early experiences shape who they are, and what they want to be.
Teaching girls the relevant skills can help to show them that embarking on a career in construction is a real possibility.
One way to start this, is by encouraging them to play and build things from a young age – for example, building houses with Lego, or using household items to construct shapes. In fact, there’s a whole list of construction-related activities for children here.
As children get older, there are other skills that they will naturally learn both in and out of school that will help to equip them for a career in construction, aside from building and mechanical knowledge.
Strength, stamina, coordination, critical reasoning, maths, literacy, and technical skills are all crucial. If schools can help young girls to develop these skills, and get them to recognise that these will lay the foundations of a successful career in construction, then it will enable them to start thinking of it as a viable option.
Make them aware of their options and benefits
For many girls, they won’t have even realised that a career in construction is a possibility, which is why it needs to be discussed openly.
Equipping them with the skills required from an early age is a great start, but we need to explore the career options available to them.
Connect with local schools and ask if you can do a talk in assembly, or hold a half-day workshop for girls, where you can discuss the variety of career paths and show them first-hand what they could do. Consider pitching into a school the idea of a trip to a construction or heritage site.
For example, for most students who think of a career in construction, plumbers and plasterers will most likely come to mind – not architectural designers and project managers.
If you can’t go into schools, then see if you can meet with their career advisors. Explain the options available and provide materials that they can pass onto students; and then if they spot students – including females – who would be suited to a career in construction, they can advise them further on it.
Remove the stigma
14-19-year-olds rated the appeal of a career in construction as just 4.2/10, with the perception of it being suited to “young people who did not get into college or university”, and it involving “being outdoors and getting dirty”.
Start by highlighting the skills and qualifications that they can obtain – from apprenticeships to on-the-job training combined with working qualifications, and even degrees. We want to ensure that students no longer think of construction as a fallback option for people who don’t want to continue with higher education.
For females in particular, the stigma runs deeper. The perception of wolf-whistling workmen is understandably a huge turn-off, so we need to work hard to show them what the environment is really like.
Getting them to speak to women who already work in construction, will help them to get a feel for what a career is really like. Go Construct has a list of organisations that connect women in construction, making it a great starting point.
Plus, highlighting the variety of roles available will help to show that it’s not all about heavy grafting in hard hats and muddy boots.
As more women turn their hands to trade and speak positively about their career choice, it will help other girls consider a career in construction too. It won’t be an overnight change, but if we can work closer with schools, then we can help to portray how enjoyable and rewarding the construction sector really is.
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