Tackling industry diversity

The latest research from the NHBC Foundation confirms that the UK’s housebuilding industry has a largely male, ageing workforce and asks how can it attract more women and young people to the sector. NHBC’s head of research and innovation Neil Smith explains all

It is increasingly well understood that the housebuilding workforce needs to become more diverse by being more attractive to younger recruits, including girls and young women. For our most recent research we decided to look at the issues and misconceptions that are clearly deterring so many people from entering the sector.

The report – The gender and age profile of the house-building sector – warns of a significant shortfall in workers caused by an over-reliance on an ageing, male-dominated workforce and potential restrictions to migrant labour following Brexit.

With estimates showing that the sector needs to recruit 700,000 more people to replace those retiring or moving on, plus an extra 120,000 if the government’s aim to build one million new homes by 2020 is to be achieved (source: Farmer report), the NHBC Foundation report reminds of the seriousness of the problem and the need to act now to address the shortfall.

The report, based on data from the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey and detailed interviews with housebuilding companies and senior industry commentators, provides valuable insights into age and gender diversity within the housebuilding sector.

It finds that just 12% of the UK’s housebuilding workforce is female, the majority in secretarial or administration jobs, with less than 4% having a skilled trade role. The report also finds that young people, especially girls, are put off working in the industry because of the negative, stereotypical image of a male-dominated housebuilding industry.

(Pictured) The industry needs to attract more women and young people

Some of the major challenges for the industry in attracting women and young people include:

• Working conditions – the belief that all work in the industry takes place outdoors in all weathers
• Fears of a sexist environment – concerns about the language and behaviour of male workers on site
• Poor hiring and recruitment practices – over reliance on gender biased recruitment literature and advertising and overuse of personal contacts and networks to recruit workers
• Skills shortages – cycles of recession and growth mean that many skilled workers leave the industry during downturns, which has a knock-on effect of reducing the talent pool
• Outsourcing of site staff – a large proportion of on-site trade roles are managed by subcontractors, and therefore housebuilding companies themselves have little say on who is actually working on site.

One of the main findings of the report is that women are still seriously under-represented in skilled, technical and managerial roles in housebuilding.

It identifies a number of challenges that need to be tackled by the sector, and the broader construction industry, that are deep-rooted and endemic, such as ongoing stereotyping and antiquated recruitment practices.

Uninformed and outdated careers advice in schools is also failing to make all young people aware of the variety of jobs and roles on offer, with advisers unable to promote effectively the many attractive career opportunities in the sector.

The report has a number of recommendations to help government and companies tackle the problem including:

Top level/government

• Recognition and awareness – government must acknowledge that the current lack of diversity is a serious issue that results in the industry missing out on talent
• Sustained investment – government and housing developers should commit to continued investment to sustain the talent pool even in times of economic downturn
• Investment in career guidance – careers education in schools must be prioritised to ensure that young people (and adults throughout their careers) are given impartial, accurate advice to guide them in decision making for their futures.

Companies and HR teams

• Greater collaboration – companies must work together to provide a consistent approach to tackling diversity
• Reflection and learning – vital lessons can be learned from other industries and organisations that have successfully begun to tackle diversity issues, e.g. the British military n Funding opportunities – initiatives such as apprenticeship academies need further investment to increase their breadth of reach
• Development of social media – making more effective use of social media to market careers in housebuilding effectively
• Promotion of women – to highlight female success and inspire the next generation of female leaders in housebuilding, companies should be encouraged to promote more women into senior positions and non-executive board roles
• Encouragement and support for retraining – to capitalise on talent and loyalty within their business and to promote career progression, companies should consider offering to support current staff, in particular women, to retrain in trade or technical roles
• Mentoring young people already within the sector – companies should use experienced workers as mentors to give young people role models that they can easily relate to and who demonstrate progression and success.

In summary, young people and young women in particular need to be made aware of the wide range of roles in the housebuilding industry. From design to engineering and site management, many careers in housebuilding are rewarding and well paid, offering work in a variety of roles and environments.

For more information and to download the publication visit www.nhbcfoundation.org 

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