The UK Contractors Croup has warned that that the industry faces a huge challenge trying to increase its number of ethnic minority workers during the recession.
But the trade body pledged to work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop measures to boost ethnic minority numbers in construction.
Research by the EHRC found ethnic minorities made up just 3.3 per cent of the sector’s workforce, compared with 7.9 per cent of the workforce across the UK.
Its Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry report warned: “There is a strong perception that ethnic minorities will face rejection at the recruitment and contracts offices of construction firms due to ingrained racism and exclusionary practices.”
UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe said the body would be “very happy to be involved” in the inquiry’s consultation process, which will run over the coming months with unions, education providers and sector skills councils.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “Everyone knows there is an issue recruiting ethnic minorities and women in the industry.
“The general sort of new entrants are white and male. But it is not an easy issue to tackle.”
The proportion of ethic minorities in the industry has risen from 1.9 per cent 10 years ago.
But Mr Ratcliffe warned: “The worsening economic situation means more people in the industry are going to become unemployed and it may be an even harder challenge to maintain that figure, let alone increase it.”
The Commission – which released 31 recommendations on what should be done to increase the figures, including improving training and education – said it would report publicly on its consultation in January.
The report blamed the negative image of the construction industry, and poor careers advice and recruitment practices, for the low numbers of ethnic employees in the sector.
It said: “The construction industry is perceived as a relatively low-status industry with hard and inflexible working conditions and a persistent ‘laddish’ culture in a white, male-dominated environment.
Chance and word of mouth played the main roles in informing pupils and trainees of employment opportunities, it warned, saying this disorganised route to work seemed to disproportionately disadvantage ethnic minority students.
The inquiry said overt racism had declined in recent years, but that some forms of racist “banter” were still tolerated in the industry and often went unchecked.
Commissioner Kay Allen said: “The level of ethnic minority representation across the industry must improve. This is a vital industry for the British economy
Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie suggested more work needed to be done to ensure ethnic minority candidates could secure work-based apprenticeships.
He said: “Currently, far too often young people from ethnic minorities are shunted into classroom-based construction courses, which are unlikely to lead to employment.”
What the Commission is calling for
The Equality and Human Rights Commission report, Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry, set out a number of recommendations to increase the employment levels of ethnic minorities in the sector.
• prominent leadership from industry heads and professional bodies
• promotion of good practice through the sector skills bodies
• diversification of the supply chain to encourage more ethnic minority-led businesses to tender for opportunities
• careers advice in schools with high numbers of ethnic minority pupils
• increased participation of ethnic minority trainees on work-based learning programmes and apprenticeships
• development of an industry standard for equality monitoring
• ongoing evaluation of positive action campaigns, feeding back impact to the sector and the public, with prominence given to ethnic minority role models