When I agreed to take the role of diversity champion for the Construction Leadership Council in November last year, I did not think that my first publication under that heading would be in response to an attention-grabbing headline in Construction News.
“Half of top contractors say diversity at their firms is ‘sufficient’” – cnplus, 7 Jan.
Beneath the headlines, this means employing ‘sufficient’ women, graduates, apprentices and ethnic minorities, while simultaneously complaining about lack of skills and insufficient staff.
Skanska chief executive Mike Putnam responded, quite rightly in my view, by saying that this was “rubbish”.
With just 12 per cent women in the construction workforce and just over 7,000 apprenticeships completed last year, this cannot in any way be sufficient.
Beyond pale male graduates
The one common theme causing most senior management to lose sleep at the moment is lack of skills and shortage of good skilled staff.
Our industry lost more than 400,000 jobs in the recession and a further 400,000 people will retire in the next decade.
With 10 per cent of our workforce between the ages of 19 and 24, 12 per cent women and about 5 per cent from a non-white background, construction cannot possibly fill the requirement for skill and jobs by looking to a pale male graduate supply.
“It is no accident that the industrial strategy Construction 2025, produced by government and industry in partnership, put people first on its agenda”
Diversity matters because diversity means business.
Without diversity, our businesses and our industry cannot thrive.
It is not only the right thing but it is now a compelling commercial imperative.
So what is the Construction Leadership Council doing about this?
It is no accident that the industrial strategy Construction 2025, produced by government and industry in partnership, put people first on its agenda.
The Construction Industry Council and its delivery group are working on a number of initiatives to address some key challenges.
In spite of many excellent efforts, we still have an urgent need to improve the perception of our industry among young people at school, their parents and their teachers.
We need to get across a compelling story that our industry is an excellent place to build a long and rewarding career with a real diversity of jobs available to all who want to join us.
“The young people who are attracted to join us will in turn attract those that follow them”
The CLC delivery group is working on proposals for a common gateway for information and advice, with clear entry routes into the industry.
These include an effective common industry framework for engaging young people, with a gateway website.
While inspiring young people is the immediate focus of CLC and its delivery group to improving the image and attractiveness of the industry, it is only the start.
The young people who are attracted to join us will in turn attract those that follow them.
But to create a diverse workforce, we must retain a diverse workforce.
Many people have said, and particularly women already involved with construction, that we are not a welcoming industry.
Persuading women, and indeed men, to make a career in construction will remain a problem until this is addressed; cultural change is at the heart of this.
Modernising employment procedures and embracing technology that allows flexible and remote working are key to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.
We must also create training opportunities that allow those with young children, those who care for relatives and those with disability to participate in our industry and grow to management roles.
Our industry is a vital economic sector.
If we are to remain so and continue to thrive, we need to recognise that we must attract and retain people from the whole of the talent pool.
Diversity matters to business because diversity is business.
Tony Burton is diversity champion for the Construction Leadership Council