The construction industry has been subject to a skills shortage for a number of years and with an ageing workforce this issue is not set to disappear anytime soon. But for us to address the skills shortage to ultimately secure the future of the sector we need to ensure that our talent pool is diverse and includes one half of the world’s population that is currently hugely under-represented within the sector – women. Women currently make up around 10% of the construction workforce in the UK and only 1% work ‘on the tools’ in trades professions.
But according to Go Construct women working in construction is on the increase stating that 37% of new entrants into the industry that came from higher education are women. Numbers of women choosing to pursue a career in construction can only be set to rise with more and more women entering the sector. Misconceptions about gender specific roles are gradually diminishing with the growing number of women making the built environment their career of choice.
Women continue to be under-represented in construction but one local company is bucking the trend, boasting a female workforce of more than 30%, compared to a national average of around 10%.
With six offices nationally, but originating in Cornwall, Ward Williams Associates (WWA), is a professional consultancy which believes there are no barriers to women in construction – apart from how the industry is perceived.
“When people think of construction careers, they generally think of traditional trades, but it’s so much more diverse,” explained Kate Mills, one of two female Partners at WWA. “In fact, there are over 150 different career opportunities and all of them are suitable for women”.
“There is a massive skills shortage and there is no room for discrimination. When we’re recruiting, we look for talent, not gender. We are inclusive and gender blind.”
Professional construction jobs include architects, project managers, engineers and surveyors.
WWA, which employs more than 100 people, sees home-grown talent as the way forward. It has 12 construction ambassadors, including five women, who regularly give talks in schools, careers and STEM events.
It offers work experience from school year 10 and paid work placements for university students, and currently has three female apprentices in project management and surveying roles.
Flexible working is on offer to everyone and staff retention is high, as are return-to-work rates post childbirth, highlighting the opportunities for working parents to balance a career in construction with other priorities.
“Construction has never been seriously marketed as a career to young girls in the past, but thankfully that is changing,” said Kate. “Parents often struggle with it too – not many encourage daughters into the industry.
“The sector offers many career benefits, including above average wage levels, rapid career progression, skill development and sustainability.”
Olivia French, an assistant project manager with WWA, realised how attractive construction could be when she worked as an administrator for a firm in the Middle East.
“People wouldn’t think of construction as glamorous but it’s one of the first words I’d use to describe it,” she said. “Working in the Middle East opened my eyes to the industry and it drove me to come back to the UK and start a degree in Business Enterprise Management.
“From there I’ve found my dream job and am about to start a Masters, with a view to becoming a project manager. My working week is so diverse – I could be looking at a hotel one day, a school the next, in meetings and office visits. I love that I’m not at a desk 24/7.”