Search This Blog

Friday, 10 March 2017

GUEST BLOG: Apprenticeships Bio: Marie Cook

To mark the end of National Apprenticeship week, I have a guest blog from Amanda Boulton of Brown and Caroll. This Bio is about Marie Cook, an apprentice at Brown and Caroll and is an excellent example of what women all over the UK are achieving!

Marie is used to being something of a novelty on whichever building site she is working on. As an apprentice site carpenter, not only is she older than most apprentices due to having previously had a career as a chef manager, she is also among the tiny 1% of onsite construction workers who are female.

This can initially lead to some logistical issues – such as a sixty floor round trip to get to the ladies toilet facilities. However with more girls starting to consider apprenticeships in traditionally ‘male’ trades such as plumbing and carpentry, supported by initiatives such as Women In Construction, employers are gradually starting to wake up to the fact that they need to factor in the ‘ladies’ when setting up building sites.

In her late thirties, Marie was looking for a career change and as someone who had always been practical and hands on when it came to fixing things, was considering plumbing. However, she discovered carpentry on a 13 week multi-skills course and decided that working with wood was the way forward. After securing a work placement with Brown & Carroll 18 months ago, Marie began her apprenticeship and having completed Level 1 is now gathering evidence for her Level 2 NVQ in Site Carpentry.

From Marie herself:

“It was daunting at first, coming onto an all-male building site, and I did have preconceptions of your stereotypical builder. However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how helpful and supportive everyone has been. Brown & Carroll have been great at giving me opportunities and helping me to grow, we’re already talking about NVQ Level 3. I’m enjoying learning new skills and want to carry on progressing. I’m willing to muck in and get on with it just like everyone else, so now I’m just seen as one of the team. Women bring different skills and thought processes to the job, which can be an advantage when problem solving and even having smaller hands has occasionally come in useful! I enjoy helping to inspire other young women and recently met a 20 year old who has taken up carpentry after hearing me speak at an event.”


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Closing the skills gap: Part 2 - Apprenticeships

This week is National Apprenticeship week and with that in mind, I thought I would do a part two of closing the skills gap.

The government is imposing an apprenticeship levy from April 2017 something that is likely to have an impact on how employers view the viability of apprenticeships. However, should this affect how many apprenticeships are available going forward and will this be off putting to employers previously offering or considering the idea of offering apprenticeships?

In short, ideally not. From April 2017, employers whose payroll exceeds £3m, will pay a levy of 0.5% of their payroll on anything over the £3m. So what is the reality? In the main, for those with a payroll under £3m nothing will change but for companies that exceed this figure, the reality is they may reduce the number of apprenticeships they offer. Seen as a "payroll tax" arguments against the levy are mainly to do with the fact that this will increase business costs. However, it can be seen as a positive as discussed by the Association of Colleges that it will help to reverse a 20 year decline in employer spending on training, will be more effective than voluntary initiatives in that period and will, as a result, secure benefits for individuals and employers. The levy is part of a larger set of reforms designed to narrow the 20% productivity gap between the UK and other advanced countries

Its an interesting idea and as I have mentioned before, the ever growing skills gap means training is needed more than ever before in the Construction industry. Perhaps being "forced" is the best way to really address a problem that most within construction are concerned about but few are making any real progress with. It needs to be a two pronged attack though. Whether there are a lot of apprenticeships available doesn't matter if people do not know that they are available. Promotion of careers and higher education options within schools is key. Schools and employers need to work together to inspire and engage with students to educate them on the opportunities available to them and the careers in construction that are available. Where construction is concerned this engagement needs to be equal for both male and female students as research shows that this is not currently the case.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to learn a new skill, begin a career and earn whilst doing so. Organisations such as K10 not only help people get apprenticeships but social responsibility is high on their agenda. Of apprentices on site 15% are women, 12% are ex-offenders, 73% are 18-24 years old, 10% have a disability and 84% were previously unemployed. With a combination of up-skilling people and filling the skills gap, by encouraging more people to take up an apprenticeship we will be able to take steps to fill the 182,000 construction jobs currently available.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Women in Construction Awards 2017

Last Wednesday 1st March was the 2017 Women in Construction awards in Manchester Deansgate Hilton. Now in its 11th year, it was a chance for the construction industry to celebrate the achievements of the women working within it with a number of categories representing the different professions and trades.

With awards covering QS of the year, Rising Star, Engineer of the year, tradeswoman of the year and many more, we were able to meet outstanding women working hard all over the country within the Construction industry. The guest speaker was Debra Searle MBE, an inspiring woman who rowed across the Atlantic solo.

After a delicious dinner, the awards began, NAWIC had finalists in 3 categories - Rebecca Hartshorn  and Tanja Smith in Outstanding Woman in Construction, with Tanja winning, Katie Shepherd winning Mentor of the year and I was a finalist for the Rising start over 25 award.

With a range of judges from all over the industry including Bridget Bartlett, deputy chief executive at CIOB,  Professor Chris Gorse, director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute, head of the Centre for the Built Environment and professor of construction and project management at Leeds Beckett University, Lucile Kamar, equalities manager, RICS, Jane Nelson, executive director, Mears,  Emma Richman, director of assets at Bury Six Town Housing, board member of Procure Plus and chair of the audit committee and Christine Townley, ambassador, Construction Youth Trust there was a wealth of knowledge and experience on the panel. Each judge presented a video praising the strengths of the winners, demonstrating why they had won.

The awards support Construction Youth Trust and raised over £2000 for this worthy cause.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Attracting girls to the Construction industry

Whilst conducting research for my dissertation, I was surprised to find such a lack of interest in the Construction Industry when surveying a range of female students. What was surprising was not that they did not know anything about the built environment, but that despite not knowing anything about it, they branded it boring. They also declared they did not like it and they were not "good" at it.

The question is, good at what exactly? When we are in a situation where the next generation of workers are not even slightly interested by the industry and the skills gap is ever increasing we need to find ways to break down what the industry can offer and why it could be great for these young women.

According to a recent report by The Construction Skills Network (CSN), the UK’s most comprehensive construction forecast, predicts growth of 1.7% over the next five years, with 179,000 jobs to be created – a better outlook than was predicted immediately after the EU referendum. What this means is we have a lot of jobs being created and no where near the number of skilled workers required. We need to do more to encourage the next generation to consider Construction as a career choice.

Perhaps next time you're in a situation where you can give some advice and you're told, I'm not good at construction, maybe you could ask one whether they are any "good" at any of these...

1. Good at maths? whilst maths lessons at school were often a bore, for some maths is easy and interesting. For them consider engineering.

2. Good at being creative? If this is more up your street then how about architecture, interior design or again engineering. Or perhaps a trade, painting or carpentry/joinery?

3. Good with people? If you are a people person, how about Construction management, Project management or Business Development?

4. Good with details? If you have an eye for detail then Quantity Surveying or planning could be the choice for you.

5. Good with your hands? If you don't like the idea of being stuck behind a desk all day then consider a trade. Electrician, plumber, carpenter and many more trades are available. A way in to this is through an apprenticeship, something that the government is pushing and increasing the number of this year.

These are just a few career options after thinking about what you might be "good" at. There are so many different roles within the industry that require a range of different skills, so suggesting you are not good at construction is crazy. It is an industry worth exploring with a number of routes in. It may be that you know someone who is struggling to choose a career, who may need some guidance. Chances are she hasn't considered construction, so why not give her a nudge!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Maternity Trap

It's 2017, men have been given paternity leave and the option to share parental leave but in reality is it ok for them to do it? And by ok, I don't mean legally. Whether implicitly said or not, company culture can pressure employees into making decisions that given a truly free choice, they wouldn't make.

And why is this important? It is important because the culture we create in the workplace for men around parental leave is vital for the culture created around parental leave for women. Something that in its current form, needs to change. Currently in construction, when a women tells her employer she is pregnant, she often gets the support she is looking for, regular meetings to see if she's ok and managing her workload, preparations are made to handover her work to whoever is covering her whilst on leave and then she goes off for her chosen time of parental leave. All of this is great!

The issue comes when she wants to come back. All too often, the construction industry talks the talk but that's where it stops. There seems to be a problem of "knowing what to do with women" when they return from maternity leave and this usually results in them receiving a demotion, too little to do on a day to day basis or they are ignored until they leave their job of their own accord.

The reality is that until we change the culture and encourage men to take leave to care for their children there will be an issue around women returners. The construction environment is such that there are clearly certain roles that can not be done on a part time basis. Something that often means sidelining of women who choose to come back part time. The nature of projects means that female project managers, construction managers, development managers etc struggle to do their job part time because they need to be available full time in order to make decisions and drive projects forward. It is not practical for these roles to be done on a part time basis as meetings, decision making and being on site to oversee project process cant be scheduled around the part time employee. This the nature of the role, rather than anything to do with gender but what isn't just the job is that other roles can be done on a part time basis, such as engineer, QS, trades and yet women are still demoted, given less responsibility and not really given the opportunity to do what they were previously considered capable of.

When only women are able to give birth, the Construction industry needs to assist in making the choice to have children easier to do alongside having a career. At a time where few people have the choice as to whether they return to work employers need to allow women to step back into their roles and take on what they did previously if that is what they want. To sideline a women returning from maternity leave does nothing other than undermine her confidence and ability and deprives companies of talent. In 2017, we should be giving women the support they deserve, the support that the men have had all along.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Construction Gender Pay Gap

So, now that its 2017 are you thinking new year, new you? Planning out all the things you'd like to achieve over the next 12 months? Good for you! It may be a new job, it may be that promotion you've been working towards, it may even be a new qualification but regardless of this, have you thought about pay?

Late last year, there were reports that the UK construction industry had the lowest gender pay gap on record at 16.3% which according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) was down 1.8%.  Whilst some were out there celebrating "hooray for us, we are the lowest", I was thinking that 16.3% is still a pretty large gap. More and more articles have popped up over the last couple of months suggesting a gender pay gap as large as 23.3% and whilst this is based on a tool from the government and the ONS it is still useful to see.

Looking at the data it is easy to see we have a major problem here. How are we supposed to attract women to the industry when the 1% of women working in trades are being paid 15% less than the men? It is a hard enough environment for women to enter and work in without the added information - which is freely available online - that they are also being paid less to do the same job. With technology what it is, strength plays a minimal part in trades and can no longer be used as an excuse.

Looking to the professional roles its a much less gloomy picture. Civil Engineers earn 2.8% more than male counterparts whilst project managers earn 3.2% less with female Chartered Surveyors earning 0.9%. The big gaps are evident in architecture where female architects earn 9% less then male architects which further compounds the data that architecture is primarily made up of older, white males from privileged backgrounds - an old boys club of sorts that looks after its own.

The skills gap, the gender imbalance and the pay gap in the construction industry are all inter-linked and as a result, more needs to be done to address all three issues if we are ever to eliminate even one of them. To address the skills gap, we should look to attract women to the industry (as part of the solution), to attract women, we need to ensure that they are not on the back foot from the get go, feeling under valued knowing they earn less for the same role. Once something is done to address this, perhaps more women would join the industry reducing the imbalance even slightly.

To me, it seems obvious that a gender pay gap is lose lose for everyone. For the women doing the jobs, they feel resentment knowing that the guy sitting next to them doing exactly the same job is most likely getting paid around 20% more than them. What is the incentive to work as hard? This demonstrates why companies lose out - all companies presumably want their employees to produce results. Why wouldn't you pay all your employees based on merit rather than gender. Then they gain an incentive to be as productive as possible. Then there are the men in this situation.

Whilst majority of people would not care if their colleagues were being paid less than them regardless of the reason, it should matter on a general level. Being paid more based on gender de-values your work. The reality is that they aren't only being paid more because they are good at what they do, they are being paid that much because they are male.

Why wouldn't you want your partner to earn the same regardless of gender? Together, you would then have more income. And do you think your mum or your sister or your mate should be paid less despite being great at their jobs just because they happen to be female? It just doesn't make sense. Women earning the same as men doesn't change what men earn, it shouldn't change anything other than it makes women feel that they are valued despite their gender and it is right that they should.

What is a different matter is pay based on merit... something I think will be more important once the headlines read "Gender pay gap % in Construction". Hopefully we will see this headline soon!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Closing the skills gap: Part 1 - Schools and their influence

As I have discussed in previous posts, the construction industry skills gap is something that at some point will affect us all. Previous figures suggested there are 182,000 construction jobs to be filled and importantly, this is not taking account of new projects either announced or on the horizon. With projects such as Hickley Point C already affecting labour available for current projects and the announcement in the Autumn budget of major infrastructure projects going ahead to support the planned increase in housing, such as Crossrail 2 and HS3 in addition to the planned Heathrow expansion, something needs to be done urgently.

I wrote before that an immediate solution for this would attracting millennials as there is a general lack of interest from this age group in the industry. They could be key to filling the void in the short term if we could engage with them. However, for a long term solution, we need to look to a younger generation, to primary and secondary schools for a source of future labour. Research shows that those who have a family member or people close to them working in the construction industry are significantly more likely to take a job in the Built Environment. Those with no connections are very unlikely. So how can we change this?

We need to look to students still at school. Reaching children who have not made their minds up about a career and therefore their academic route - GCSE choices, A-Level choices, BTECs etc or even apprenticeships - could be the difference as to whether they are able to enter the industry easily or not and it is far more likely that they would if they didn't need to go back to school to get required qualifications. The main issues seem to be a lack of knowledge of what career options are available in construction, a lack of interest in the industry, and a pre-conceived idea of what working in construction is like. The problem with these 3 issues is that there is little engagement between the industry and schools to change this. Whilst the industry talks about it, they don't do that much, and schools are no better, saying they want to be involved but in reality do not promote the construction industry as a good employer and on the whole do not engage with construction employers.

Organisations such as BESS Programme and Class of Your Own have been set up and fully engage with schools, pupils and the construction industry. BESS - Built Environment Skills in School is a project which aims to inform pupils in school and further education about the opportunities available to them in the Construction industry. The programme recognises the issue of the skills gap in the industry and is seeking to address this but it can not be left to one or two organisations to deal with whilst the industry sits back and just talks about what can be done.

We, in construction, have a responsibility to ensure that we inspire the next generation so that we can ensure the skills gap closes. If we continue to only discuss and not act, the number of construction jobs that needs to be filled will continue to rise well above the current level of 182,000. However, what is clear is that it is not just a lack of action by the construction industry, but also a lack of engagement by schools and a lack of knowledge and understanding of students and their families who are likely to be the ones giving careers advice. It is vital that schools are more pro-active and give pupils options, but it is equally important that they have access to material and resources in order to do this.

There are easy ways to engage with this generation through organisations such as BESS who. If you would like to get involved with the Built Environment Skills In Schools Programme, you can follow them on Twitter @BESSprogramme and visit their website to create a 90 second career video that will be used to inspire the next generation of construction professionals. Find more info at