30/10/2018
Females into Construction: A New Solution to Changing Perceptions?

Just one week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking as part of the Women in BIM panel, at London Build. Myself, alongside five BIM thought-leaders, discussed the need for attracting more females into construction, in order to combat the skills shortage. We spoke about what actions are needed to attract more women and why many currently don’t feel construction and engineering is a career option for them. I had the privilege of providing some possible solutions to the issue at hand through my input.

So why don’t more females join engineering and construction? Let’s wind back 12 months, and I’ll share what I have learned during both my personal and work life journey in a world, which is definitely not how we perceive it to be.

 

13th November 2017
‘Construction is full of men with steel toe capped boots and fluorescent safety jackets’

It took five minutes for me to realise my above, and rather short-sighted, perception of the industry was wrong, as I walked into my new workplace. Granted within construction, the percentage of males to females is very high and yes, you don’t often see a woman shovelling cement or stacking bricks and this may continue to be the case (let’s be honest!) but what I will say, is that I was experiencing something very different to what I had initially envisaged!

 

 

No-one should ever be influenced by what history tells us males and females are best suited to! (Lexxi, Apprentice Digital Engineer, 17)

 

The Technical Design Services Group is unique – it’s three companies combine; education, digital design, and engineering, with a core value to drive for innovation. I found myself to be initially working in the TDS and Cadcoe Telford office, where there are a total of 31 staff of which 6 are female and 3 of those 6 are young female apprentices! During the past 12 months, I’ve got to know my fellow female colleagues, and have asked them all the same two questions;

Do you ever feel uncomfortable in their working environment?

Do you ever feel as though you don’t belong in engineering or construction?

Each one of them replied ‘No ’ but added that working for an employer that welcomes diversity and encourages an inclusive environment is paramount! Lexxi (17) added ‘No-one should ever be influenced by what history tells us males and females are best suited to.” I think that statement says it all!

We need to work on the ‘knowledge’ shortage before the ‘skills’ shortage

I knew to be successful in my role, I needed to get to the roots of what makes our apprentices tick. I have the pleasure of conducting focus groups with our Digital Design Apprentices on a regular basis and ask them to be candid in their responses to my questions. I ask them; Does the word ‘construction’ put them off? Do they think University is the only way to get into engineering? They answer unanimously to both questions, ‘Yes! The word construction conjures up a picture of a man in boots and a hard hat and engineering is seen as a male environment, where you have to obtain a HNC at university to even consider a career. This is, of course, fantastic feedback to how we position the Cadcoe brand, but how do we change perceptions on a wider scale? How do we educate and attract talented females to the opportunities available?

Parents are hugely influential. Many of our apprentices commented that although they wouldn’t admit it to them, they listen very carefully to what their parents have to say about their career choices and would take advise if their parents had a more in-depth knowledge of careers in construction.  A number of our female apprentices have got parents who have either worked or know something about the construction environment, so have taken advice on 1st hand experiences.

 

We will only change perceptions through collaboration

I attended Construction Week recently and while I was listening to a skills seminar, I spotted a gentleman with his daughter. She was riding her scooter and could only have been around 8 years old but he was invested in showing her some of the innovative tools on display. It made me smile and hope that maybe one day we may see her name put to a legacy project!

Both construction and engineering have great stories to tell our future workers. There are empowering, influential women, in really exciting roles, who can inspire our future generations. The work that Women in BIM are doing is one great example – the group believes that by working together, they have the greatest power to influence more young females to join construction. This is the key ‘working together’ to make the message heard!

So…. Let’s not work in silos when it comes to addressing an increasing skills shortage, we CAN attract more females! Our industry has ideas, a wealth of knowledge and people who innovate and are thought leaders, so let’s use them!

If you are/have been a Digital Engineer, Structural Engineer, Architect, BIM Manager, HR Professional or would like to just get involved and have a passion for encouraging our next generation of female professionals into our world, please get in touch and lets actually do this!

If 1% of the females living in the UK right now joined construction, this would mean an additional 300,000 employees for the industry – can it really be that simple?

 

 

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BY Kirsti Wells | 30th October 2018