Use tech to attract diverse workers to construction, argues all-female panel
Think of your typical construction industry worker and the archetype is most probably male, usually white and perhaps comes sporting a clipboard, a hard hat and high-vis vest.
While the industry has made a conscious effort to move away from this image in recent times the needle hasn’t moved very far.
According to a study by the Fairness, Inclusions and Respect (FIR) Programme, there was a 0.4% rise in hires from people belonging to minority ethnic groups over the past year – rising from 13.3% to 13.7%.
And yet 40% of job applicants, the study claims, are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
In terms of gender, women take up just under a quarter of construction jobs, according to FIR’s study, although the Office of National Statistics figures reveal that they only take 14% of the UK construction workforce.
The industry is extremely male dominated,” acknowledged Anna Wendt, partner at engineering consultancy Buro Happold.
Speaking on a panel at Digital Construction Week at ExCel earlier this month, she added: “We need to draw talent from a wider pool because we’re responsible for designing, developing, and building the built environment, and the built environment is for everybody.”
“The more inclusive and representative of the societies and communities that we’re designing for, the better equipped we can respond to the challenges,” she argued.
Fellow panellist Sophie Morris, head of customer success at software firm Buildots agreed that there was a strong business case for making more diverse hires because they lead to the design of more relevant spaces.
As it stands, only 2% of site roles are taken by women while just 6% of roles are taken by people with disabilities – a group who are directly impacted by design choices that the industry makes.
“As an industry, we need to be representative of the communities that we’re designing for,” concurred Wendt.
“We need to have people from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, different cultures, and also neurodiverse, and only then are we going to be able to truly understand and stay ahead of future problems.”
The all-women panel did agree however that it was no longer common to be the only female on-site these days and that it was new technology that was opening doors to different types of workers.
According to BIM lead at John Sisks & Son, Nidaa Alazmeh, one way the construction industry can ensure a more inclusive future is through using tech to attract a younger cohort of workers.
“The industry needs to attract Gen Z,” said Alazmeh. “I’ve done a lot of work with young people in schools, colleges, and universities, and there’s absolutely the wrong assumption in Gen Z’s head that they see the industry as outdated and not forward-thinking.”
Among the younger demographic, Alazmeh found that many couldn’t see themselves working in the industry or picture the kind of roles they could be taking on – and yet many construction businesses are digitally-led.
Alazmeh argued that it was important emphasise this in schools. “My first question to young people in the classroom would be – do you play games like Minecraft or Roblox?”
Online gaming environments are not dissimilar to digital twins and virtual reality, and she added that the skills learned in these environments can translate well to the technology roles currently used in construction.
“It creates that common language between ‘us’ and ‘them’,” she concluded.
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