The UK construction industry, a vital pillar of the economy, is currently grappling with a severe skills shortage. Catherine Storer, Executive Director of ESS and a contender for the Women in Construction Awards (WICA), suggests that diversifying the workforce is crucial to tackling this issue. According to Storer, the ageing workforce exacerbates the shortage of experienced professionals. She asserts, “Diversifying the workforce brings various perspectives, skills, and experiences, fostering innovation, enhancing productivity, and building a more resilient workforce.”

ESS has trained over 8,500 women in the past decade, but Storer believes more efforts are needed. The latest Construction Skills Network (CSN) report projects a demand for 225,000 additional construction workers by 2027, with nearly 60% of companies struggling to find the necessary skills.

Visibility and Representation

Storer is not alone in advocating for greater diversity. Kelly Cartwright, owner and director of Core Recruiter Ltd., emphasises the importance of representation, noting, “A push for diversification in the construction industry is crucial.” Cartwright, recognised as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Construction for 2022 and 2023, believes that “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.” She advocates for closing the gender gap in construction, stating that a more diverse workforce can address current skill shortages by tapping into a broader talent pool.

The Power of Diverse Teams

Traditionally male-dominated, the construction industry is beginning to recognise the benefits of diversity. Studies show that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones due to their fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and broader skill sets. Storer emphasises that inclusion is essential for addressing the industry’s challenges. Currently, only 15% of UK construction workers are women, highlighting deep-seated social biases and the untapped potential of women in construction.

Storer highlights the unique contributions women bring to the industry, including diverse perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches. She has observed that women’s exceptional interpersonal skills enhance team communication and collaboration, ultimately improving project outcomes.

Challenges Facing Women in Construction

Despite the clear benefits of gender diversity, significant barriers remain. Storer believes that misconceptions about the industry being inaccessible and underpaid deter women from pursuing construction careers. While entry-level roles may offer lower compensation, skilled craftsmen and experienced professionals can earn competitive salaries.

Another challenge is the lack of awareness about the opportunities and pathways within the construction industry. Storer notes that this lack of understanding can discourage women from considering construction as a viable career option. Cartwright adds that physical challenges, limited career progression, and gender stereotypes further deter women from the field.

However, efforts are being made to address these obstacles. Colleges and training organisations play a crucial role in diversifying the workforce and closing the gender gap in construction.

The Role of Mentorship and Training

ESS is one such organisation dedicated to industry upskilling and training. Storer emphasises the importance of diversity in driving innovation, creativity, and performance. She believes that training companies like ESS are leading the charge in transforming the workforce and that businesses have a responsibility to provide upskilling opportunities.

These opportunities reduce barriers for women, enabling their success in the sector. By showcasing successful female professionals as role models, the industry can encourage more women to enter construction.

Cartwright’s initiatives include mentorship programs for newcomers and networking events to help women feel comfortable and build professional connections. These efforts aim to level the playing field, providing women with the resources and support they need to succeed.

Storer believes that involving women in the creation of construction curricula enhances inclusivity. ESS strives to ensure all employees feel valued, respected, and given equal opportunities for growth and advancement. By offering fair career progression opportunities and highlighting successful individuals from diverse backgrounds, construction companies can build a resilient workforce reflective of the population.

Addressing the talent gap in the UK construction industry requires a multifaceted approach, with workforce diversification at its core. By fostering an inclusive environment, providing mentorship and training, and challenging existing misconceptions, the industry can tap into the untapped potential of female builders. This not only helps alleviate the skills shortage but also drives innovation, productivity, and resilience within the sector. As the industry evolves, the contributions of women will be instrumental in shaping a dynamic and robust construction workforce for the future.