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Our diversity looks bleak – but the future can be bright

Stephen Cole

Walk down most UK high streets and you’ll see that 21st century Britain is a marvellous melting pot of colours, backgrounds, creeds and cultures.

Walk onto most construction sites, however, and you will see a very different picture.

When I first saw my job at CITB advertised, I did a little bit of research and found that only 2 per cent of those in construction come from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Construction’s lack of workforce diversity is stunning.

I’ve spent the last 15 years working in the careers sector including three years at Connexions and 12 years at the University of Westminster. At CITB, I’m developing a careers strategy to ensure those interested in the sector can learn about it, develop an understanding of the progression routes and secure purposeful work experience.

This will facilitate their transition to gainful employment and long-term careers. However, it goes without saying that there are things that we can do at CITB, and things that only industry can do for itself.

What industry can do

First and foremost, it’s vital that a diverse range of potential construction recruits see people they can relate to, enjoying a wide variety of successful construction careers.

We should aspire for our ambassadors promoting construction in schools to reflect the demographic changes we’d like to see in the sector. By identifying with role models, potential entrants will be able to see themselves in the sector.

“It’s no good recruiting a diverse range of people unless we fix the leaky pipeline of talent going through construction’s revolving door”

Second, we must encourage more provision and uptake of work experience, so that people have the opportunity to see what a construction career is really like. CITB research shows that the lack of experience stops FE learners who have completed construction courses from securing a role within the sector. 

It’s vital that senior leaders in construction make a concerted effort to effect this change.

One such beacon of best practice and collaborative, business-led efforts is Freshfields’ Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme.

By using its relationships, resources and reputation, Freshfields aims to address under-representation of black men from less privileged backgrounds in large law firms and City institutions. Students that have joined the scheme have spoken of how it transformed career barriers into opportunities they never thought possible.

In-depth

Contractors’ blind spot: The ethnic pay gap timebomb

Mentoring impact

There is scope within the industry to adopt a similar model that addresses the skills and diversity challenge in all its forms. Part of this could be mentoring.

I set up a successful mentoring programme at Westminster and have seen first-hand the positive impact mentoring can have in breaking down barriers and challenging misconceptions about particular career paths and industries.

One of our mentees from an ethnic minority was matched with a mentor from a similar background working at Barclays. Over six months, her mentor helped raise her aspirations and improve her confidence. Today, she’s working as a fully paid member of the legal sector.

Finally, the CITB will continue to work with industry to create more inclusive and respectful workplaces for all. It’s no good recruiting a diverse range of people unless we fix the leaky pipeline of talent going through construction’s revolving door.

So while the current situation may appear bleak, the future is certainly bright. The conversations are happening and we’re committed to enabling sustainable change. Come and join us!

Stephen Cole is head of careers and strategy at CITB

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