This time of year tends to provoke a back to school feeling after the summer and is usually a busy time with full programmes of events such as conferences and lectures as well as what we may call the “day job”. Certainly, some of us at the National Association of Women in Construction are busier than ever as we are in the midst of organising our annual conference on 12 November 2015 and are planning the lead up to Christmas.
If I reflect on the past few months, the predominant theme of many of the NAWIC events that we attend and events run by other organisations such as Chicks with Bricks is that there are so many women in the industry. Not only that, there are so many women of all ages working in professional services, contracting, design, engineering and housing who are enthused, driven and determined to improve our built environment. From my experience on the NAWIC committee there are also many women who are setting up their own construction practices and starting out on their own. What this means in reality is women in construction are developing and changing the scope of their roles which is leading the way for others to do so. This has prompted concern that while there are some incredible roles being fulfilled by women it seems that the general public still view it as an antiquated and unwelcoming culture.
There is also an increasing concern that construction is failing to attract young talent and is going to continue to lose out to industries such as media, technology and finance. This point was picked up by the RICS in the context of how we may be walking into a severe skills gap in years to come if we don’t figure out a way to encourage graduates into our sector. Personally, I think the key reason for waning interest is a lack of information as to what roles in construction entail and how an understanding of media, technology and finance are key skills in construction. Another issue that must being pressing is transparency over career development, salaries and benefits, flexible working, possibilities for further education and timescales for career development. There is also the more obvious point that is often neglected which is that working in construction encompasses infrastructure, healthcare, education and housing or in other words every aspect of our lives.
We have tried to put our positive message out there and one exciting project we are working on is an online tool that will seek to identify and explain the full spectrum of career opportunities using role models currently working in construction. The idea being that if young people and graduates are told about the wide ranging opportunities that exist we may start to close the skills gap and compete with other sectors that are attracting young talent. To that end, we have been and remain delighted to discover that there are so many women working in construction and the positive message to put out there is that this sector is more modern and diverse than may be assumed. Going forward, a key task for now is to make sure such wrong assumptions are corrected.
THERESA MOHAMMED, PARTNER IN DISPUTE RESOLUTION AND LITIGATION AT TROWERS & HAMLINS AND DEPUTY CHAIR OF NAWIC.