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Q&A: What's it really like for women in construction?

Two apprentices share their thoughts about working in construction and how to inspire the next generation of women

Posted by Lucinda Reid | April 02, 2018 | People, policy, politics, money

The Construction Industry Council’s ‘A Blueprint for Change’ report revealed that women only account for 14 per cent of the industry’s workforce.

In an attempt to improve these figures, leading contractor Wates Construction and commercial property developer, MEPC are ensuring that during the build of 7 & 8 Wellington Place, they create a diverse and inclusive culture to help attract more women to the industry.

Aimee Shann and Natalie Harris, two apprentices based at Wellington Place, share their thoughts on working in the industry and how we might encourage the next generation of women to join the construction community.

What made you seek a career in construction?

Natalie Harris (NH): I searched online for apprenticeships as this is the higher education route I wanted to follow after my A-levels. I was open to a wide variety of industries but it had to be something that I knew I would enjoy and suit my skill set. Following all of my research I found that an apprenticeship scheme in construction was something I was well-suited to, and I was delighted to be placed with Wates Construction at MEPC’s Wellington Place development.

Aimee Shann (AS): In my first year at university I signed up to a careers website which advertised jobs and internships available to graduates and undergraduates, which is where I found this opportunity. I have a lot of family members who work in construction, with both my grandad and uncle going down this route. Although construction is very much in our blood, I am very proud to say that I am the first woman in the family to work in the industry.  

What is the best bit of the job?

NH: This probably sounds like a cliché, but for me I would have to say the people and the community spirit at the development. Within the job we meet people from a variety of backgrounds and specialisms, which really helps us become well-rounded and informed employees. Outside of the job, there’s also lots going on that we can be part of, such as a workplace choir, knitting club and exercise classes provided free of charge by MEPC. At these community events we get to meet co-workers from Wates, the development team and people from the many businesses already settled at Wellington Place.

AS: For me it’s the variation in my role. Every day is completely different which means the job is always exciting and offering up new things for me to learn. In addition to our core responsibilities, we also have the opportunity to get involved with lots of different parts of the business, such as input into Wates’ social media and to go on courses to improve other skills, such as mental health awareness sessions.

What have you found most challenging?

NH: I think the most difficult thing wasn’t the industry I was going into, but the change of dynamic of going straight from school into work. Although I knew university wasn’t the right path for me, it did feel a little like being thrown into the deep end, having to learn in a completely different way, both the daily tasks of the role but also working with people of all ages and expertise. However, the upside of this is having so much opportunity to learn from the get go.

AS: Yes, I would agree that it can be a little daunting at first, but what was great is that you only get as much responsibility as you can handle, meaning your development is done at the right pace. I think the biggest challenge for me has been the number of acronyms in the job! All construction terms seem to have these and getting to grips with that took a lot of time. Luckily, I am now proficient in construction speak, which is a great skill to have.

Would you say there’s a need for education early on to show young girls the appeal of working in construction?

AS: I would say there needs to be a change in early education, even as young as primary, but certainly from the start of secondary when career discussions start. I would imagine that a major cause of women not going into construction is that they have simply never considered it as an option at the various stages of their life when they are looking at careers.

NH: Definitely! Not just in construction but more general as for me it was from year 9, around the age of 13, that there was a real first push towards grades and careers. We need to disrupt the stereotypical pipeline. Neither of us were aware of opportunities within construction, it was more something we stumbled across and it shouldn’t be that way.

What do you think is the solution to attracting more women into the construction industry?

AS: Site visits from a young age would be fantastic. People need to be able to see the opportunities for themselves in order to break the stigma surrounding the industry. Women in construction lectures would also be a great way to do this, given by team members at all levels. In my experience, these are always by female figures high up within an organisation, but it would be great if they were also given by those who are more on the ground, as they may easier for people to relate to.

NH: They need to be able to experience the opportunities for themselves, that’s key. So, whether it is seeing demonstrations of how to do day-to-day tasks, or inspiring them by visiting iconic buildings which have been in part constructed by women. Experiencing what the industry has to offer first hand is the route to inspiration.

Would you recommend others follow your career path? Why?

NH: Yes, one hundred per cent. My role as a Commercial Management Trainee covers so many areas – everything from construction law to accounting and planning. There’s always something new happening in the industry, and my role gives me the opportunity to try things I wouldn’t usually get to. It gives me a high level of satisfaction and the passion to work my way up the construction career ladder.

AS: I would recommend my role as Production Management Trainee to anyone! I am not the sort of person who can sit at a computer screen all day so if you feel the same, this might be the role for you. I get to see things happening and see my work come to life, giving a sense of pride on my work like no other.

How do you feel your organisation and the building developer has supported your career?

NH: Wates has been fantastic since the first day, ensuring we are learning the skills to enable us to complete our qualifications whilst also making us feel comfortable within the role. They also allow us to start taking on various responsibilities from an early stage in a non-pressured way, meaning we develop at a healthy pace. It has also been great that MEPC has added to our development by offering free access to vocational courses and making us feel like we’re part of the Wellington Place community.

AS: Before starting on site, we had a two day induction which talked us through our job role, what was expected of us and a strategy on how we can achieve success. This robust plan of action enabled us to map out what was needed to get us to the finish line, which I am pleased to say is still on track! In terms of ongoing support, it really is second to none, with constant involvement, engagement and reviews.

What would you say to future generations of women who want to get into the industry?

NH: Take the plunge! To put it simply, things won’t change in this industry unless women have the courage to go for it. Don’t get me wrong, this job isn’t for everyone, but the idea that a role is more or less suited to someone based on their gender is completely wrong and I hope that this sentiment will be commonplace for future generations.

AS: I would want to tell them that the industry isn’t what you expect – there’s no getting away from the fact that construction has traditionally been a male dominated industry, but we are making progress on this. The industry is also far less male-orientated than people think, something I only learned by taking the job.

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