As a female architect, I am all too aware of how few women there are working in construction. Throughout my training and career to date, I have often been the only woman round the table or on the building site – indeed research shows that in the construction industry as whole, only 7 per cent of full-time workers are women (although in architecture the figure is a little higher at 20 per cent, it is still a way off 50/50).
Clearly there is a lot that needs to be done to improve this statistic and, with the current skills gap in construction, if we can encourage more women into the industry we can also help solve the skills gap problem it is going to have in coming years.
Businesses need to be more vocal about highlighting the work of existing female employees within their own organisations, so that other women – both inside and outside of that business – can see roles they can aspire to. This can be via blog posts or articles on their own website, or encouraging female members of staff to take up other roles within construction that will highlight their abilities – such as my employers, Stride Treglown, have done for me by supporting me in my new role as chairman of the South-West branch of Women in Property.
I also think the next generation need to better understand the huge variety of disciplines available in construction – it isn’t simply about being an architect, or a brick-layer. There are a wealth of opportunities on offer, from mechanical, services or civil engineering through to specialist facade designers or building energy assessors. They can be site-based roles – both practical and managerial, or office-based.
This is where Women in Property come in – we attend numerous careers fairs during the school year, where our members talk to young people about what their jobs actually entail and what skills are needed to follow different career paths in construction. We find it fascinating talking to young women about what they’d like to do but it is shocking how many of them do not realise what working in construction entails. Redrow Homes recently published a study that identified nearly half of schoolchildren were not aware of the variety of roles on offer in construction so somehow we need to work together to get this message across.
Media coverage, careers fairs and offering work experience placements are all factors which we hope will contribute to encouraging more young people and more women, into construction. Here at Stride Treglown we regularly host work experience students from GCSE, A-Level and degree level, some of whom go on to follow a career in Architecture, others realise they want to focus on a different area of construction. Either way, it is clear that getting them into the working environment and highlighting to them what the construction industry is all about, helps them visualise what their future career path could look like.
I would call on all businesses to please consider taking on work experience students if they can – even just a few days can make a difference.
Rachel Bell is an architect, divisional director at Stride Treglown and has recently been appointed Chairman of Women in Property South-West.