Laing O’Rourke says it expects to attract more women into the industry when it opens its first off-site manufacturing plant.
Demolition and remediation work is currently being carried out at its first plant at a former colliery in Steetley, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, with building work starting just after Christmas.
Part of the complex will open next year, the rest in 2009.
Mike Robins, the firm’s managing director of European construction operations, said the £100 million plant will employ around 270 people, a significant number of them women.
He said: “We think the shift from site to production facilities will see more women in the industry.”
Mr Robins told a conference on office building, organised by Construction News, that off-site methods would produce greater quality and production levels than carrying out work on site.
He added more people in general would be willing to get into construction if more of it was carried out under factory roofs - leading to a less migratory workforce. He said: “We will retain them longer and we will be able to recruit and train a larger and better skilled workforce.”
Laing O’Rourke is also looking at opening two similar plants to cover the north and south, as it gears up to carry out more and more of its future work off-site. Chief operating officer Tony Douglas has said he wants to hit a 70 per cent target for using pre-assembly.
The northern facility is likely to be built in the Scottish borders and will service Laing’s contracts in Scotland as well as northern England. It is expected to be built close to the motorway network. A plant near the M74 is the most likely option.
Its southern complex will be in the M4 corridor to ferry pre-fabricated components to its key London and South-east markets.
Mr Robins said both plants are likely to be built at former manufacturing facilities, as it is easier to get planning permission for rundown areas.
This summer Mr Robins and other senior figures from Laing visited Toyota in Japan to learn more about off-site assembly.
Analysis: It should be more than a man’s world
By David Rogers
Last year Laing O’Rourke chairman Ray O’Rourke got into hot water when he said women didn’t fit in on building sites.
To some, he was a reactionary; to others, a realist. But with the number of women working in the trades generally estimated at 1 per cent, he had a point. Women are simply not queuing up for jobs on site.
Mr O’Rourke later wrote that women would not be attracted into the industry unless site practices, processes and culture changed.
The industry needs 87,000 recruits a year until 2011 to keep up with demand.
It has made little progress in attracting women into it, even though they make up half the population.
For Laing, the plant at Steetley is about much more than just improving efficiency at its sites.
Clearly, that is its main aim but it believes the £100 million investment will have longer-term spin-offs.
Whether women will come flocking has yet to be seen.