The continued growth in the UK population is fuelling unprecedented demand for housing with an extra 300,000 new homes needed each year to meet the increase.

An additional million workers are required by 2020 to keep up with this rise but an emerging skills gap threatens to slow the UK economy, delay vital infrastructure projects and lead to a shortage of much-needed new homes. 

Women, however, could provide up to 50% of this new workforce, fueling expansion of the construction industry and changing the face of it permanently. As well as helping to plug the skills shortage plaguing construction, encouraging women into the sector could help tackle longstanding sexism and perceived stereotypes. 

Which sectors are struggling to recruit skilled staff?

The construction industry currently needs an extra 48,000 engineers to meet projected population growth of 74.5m by 2050 and the general workforce needs to grow by an extra 9,650 personnel a year to stay on target.

According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), 18% of companies struggle to recruit labourers and general operatives, 9% lack technical staff and there is a strong demand for managers, directors and skilled engineers. 

82% of current workers agree there is skills shortage and a further 72% say there is a mismatch between the availability of work and the capacity to keep up with it, which is also increasing the demand for more skilled individuals.

What is being done to encourage more women to join the industry? 

Our new report which explores the changing attitudes to women in the construction sector suggests that the gender imbalance has improved drastically in recent years, with women now accounting for 20% of the overall construction workforce. However, the report also suggests that there is still a lot to be done to change perceptions and encourage more female workers to join the industry as 29% of women state that nothing special is being done to recruit more women. 

To add to this, there are still women working in construction who report being discriminated against purely because of their gender and 41% believe men are still paid more than them.

However, despite these concerning statistics, there are some organisations who are working hard to ensure discrimination is eradicated and more women are recruited at all levels. 

At Vinci Construction, hiring managers have worked hard to address the gender imbalance and now try to ensure that their departments are evenly split in order to improve performance and build a diverse workforce.

Joanne Mercer, Head of Operational Development at Vinci, explains:

“There’s lots of research indicating that gender balanced teams perform better than non-balanced teams. At VINCI Construction over the last couple of years we have taken positive action to bridge the gender gap through initiatives to recruit more women into our business, retain our existing talent and enable them to fulfil their potential.   

“In particular, a focus on supporting female role models has seen us increase the proportion of women employees in professional and technical roles by 11% and across the workforce by 50%.”

Elsewhere, the Construction Youth Trust launched its #notjustforboys campaign in September 2015, which focuses on changing the perception that a career in construction is just for men, particularly for school leavers.

Trust Executive Director, Christine Townley, says: “The industry has a great opportunity to inspire and recruit the next generation of tradesmen, tradeswomen and professionals and we need to show them that women can succeed.”

The government-funded #notjustforboys campaign which inspired this campaign also aims to get women into non-traditional roles, not just in construction but in science and technology too.

In addition, UCATT, the UK’s only trade union specialising in construction, has been running a Women Get Women recruitment campaign to increase the number of female construction worker members by its 2016 National Delegates Conference.

You can find out more about all these initiatives and campaigns here.These campaigns, combined with a positive shift in recruitment and retention practices of construction companies, should lead to a significant change in the gender imbalance. By opening the industry up to more women, companies are automatically giving themselves a wider pool of talent to pick from and helping to avoid a major skills shortage.