Out-Law Analysis | 28 Jan 2022 | 10:16 am | 1 min. read
The shift from a site-based industry heavily dependent on physical labour to one led by technology and innovation presents a unique opportunity to diversify the construction workforce.
Construction is a historically male-dominated sector, with UK gender pay gap reporting data showing one of the largest continuing gaps in the average earnings of male and female employees. While most of the businesses in this space have put in place strategies to address diversity and measure progress, progress is slow, and with many sectors now competing to attract a new breed of tech-savvy talent action is needed urgently.
For Madeleina Loughrey-Grant, group legal director at Laing O’Rourke, industrialisation will drive both decarbonisation of the construction industry and diversity, creating opportunities to better balance the profile of the workforce and bring in new talent who may have been put off by sector’s traditional image. Earlier this year, the company hired Vicky Bullivant, former head of sustainability at Drax, as group head of sustainability – a brand new role for Laing O’Rourke.
In the same way as we can expect a ‘rush for talent’ at senior levels a more industrialised construction industry is likely to find itself competing for talent with other business sectors, in particular technology and innovation.
But attracting – and retaining – the right talent and skills will depend on construction significantly rehabilitating its reputation, particularly at apprentice and graduate level. ‘Generation Z’, those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, no longer anticipate having a career for life, having grown up through two recessions. They are likely to prioritise fulfilling work that aligns with their values and, in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, an agile working environment, including flexible working hours and the ability to work from home.
The construction sector tends to suffer a poor image among this age group, who may view it as dirty, old-fashioned, physically demanding and even dangerous. As construction businesses industrialise and the sectors begins to implement decarbonisation initiatives, there is an opportunity to re-set this reputation, as new types of work become available and the shift to industrialised methods drives up worker welfare and health and safety standards
Similarly, firms should also look again at existing diversity initiatives, including the work many are already doing to tackle the sector’s historic gender pay gap. Outreach programmes based on encouraging young people from diverse backgrounds to consider careers in the fields of science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM), embracing flexible and agile working in those roles where it is practical to do so, and creating mentoring, development and leadership opportunities for those from less represented backgrounds are among the options considered by employers.