Simon Phillips: Construction sector's female future

The proportion of women employed in the construction industry continues to grow but, clearly, much work still has to be done if we're to turn a trickle into a flood.

Construction remains one of the most male-dominated industries. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

If you were to ask prospective female employees whether they would like to help shape the country’s towns and cities while building sustainable communities, many would reply in the affirmative.

However, if you then told them that they could do just that in construction, the response from many would probably change. Suddenly, they would think of demanding physical labour and 12 hours spent standing in the rain, or worse, a closed male environment where wolf-whistling proliferates. Overcoming such long-held perceptions continues to be a challenge.

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Construction remains one of the most gender-segregated professions in the world. Indeed, a recent study from the Scottish Funding Council found that 93 per cent of those enrolled on construction courses are male.

Of course, the fundamental question remains: does this traditionally macho world actually want more women in its midst? The answer to my mind is an emphatic “Yes”. Nevertheless, an industry determination is one thing, but getting women into jobs is another entirely.

In 2017, we’re definitely seeing greater interest from women at all levels, but harnessing that engagement is the key issue. A previous lack of on-the-job training and apprenticeship opportunities has been gradually turned around as part of a diligent, widespread effort to rid construction of its outdated image. The industry is changing for the better.

Over the last ten years, there has been a conscious movement nationally towards getting more women interested in the sector, and I firmly believe it is working. At Esh Border Construction, we are seeing an increased number applying for roles. In our Livingston office alone, we have four talented women whose career development is being supported by the company through HNC and degree courses. They have already proved a valuable addition.

As a company, we’ve seen women significantly enhancing the spectrum of our abilities thanks to often-superior personal and organisational skills, not to mention a different and valuable viewpoint on how on-site challenges can be overcome, to name just a few benefits. It helps that skilled jobs in the industry tend to be highly paid – and more and more women are discovering this strong earning potential, not to mention flexibility for a better work-life balance.

It’s predicted that a quarter of the construction workforce will be female by 2020. If the industry is to grow meaningfully, while emerging from the shadow of high staff turnover and poor recruitment, that can’t come soon enough.

Simon Phillips is regional managing director of Esh Border Construction