Today is National Women in Engineering Day in the UK where the engineering and construction industries are following international trends of attracting growing numbers of women to professional careers in these traditionally male-dominated professions.
National Women in Engineering Day was launched in 2014 to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Women’s Engineering Society, a society founded in the UK in1919 to support women as professional engineers in all sectors of the discipline. The event coincides with a celebration by the UK Women into Construction organization on 14 June, for securing paid employment for 600 women in the construction industry since it was founded in 2011. Created as part of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, the organisation became a Community Interest Company on 3 June 2015, the developments of which were also part the annual celebrations at the House of Lords in London. Both events followed an event in the United States of America in April of the Women in Tunneling group. The group gathered during the World Tunnel Congress in San Francisco to discuss its expansion, a more official organizational structure, and planning for its development and continued programme of events.
The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) introduced the National Women in Engineering Day (NWED) in 2014 to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the opportunities available for women at a time when it is important to address the engineering skills shortage. Encouraging girls into engineering careers, explains the WES, will increase diversity and inclusion as a business imperative and enable the sector to fill the substantial future job opportunities that predicted in all fields of engineering.
WES, as the founder of the NWED, is a charity established at the end of the First World War when a change of law in Britain, to ensure that the country reverted to a pre-war setting, meant that women were unable to continue with their engineering jobs, and were unwanted in the technical professions. The pioneering and influential women of the time set up the Society, which has been working since to ensure equality for women in this non-traditional sector. Today the membership of WES has three objectives:
The goal of the NWED is to encourage all groups, Governmental, educational, corporate, professional institutions, individuals and other organisations, to organise events in support of the initiative, and link them together for maximum impact. Since started in 2014, the NWED become an international awareness campaign with more than 400 organisations, schools, colleges, universities, industry bodies and individual engineers uniting for the NWED in 2015 in the name of equality and diversity to celebrate the great achievements of women engineers and encourage more girls and women to consider engineering as a career. Thousands of girls worldwide were reached on the day through social media links and locally organised events.
The celebration of the work of the Women into Construction (WIC) organization was held at the UK Parliament House of Lords last week (Tuesday 14 June). The WIC organizers were joined by Government and leading industry voices, including from the Crossrail and Tideway projects and the Construction Industry Training Board, to call for more to be done to increase gender diversity in the construction industry and tackle the growing skills challenge.
Kath Moore, Managing Director of Women into Construction, said: “There is a growing interest in addressing gender diversity in construction and infrastructure and a real appetite for change. I hope that the next few years will bring positive changes in female representation in these areas. We need to work together to share good practice and make sure that we recruit more women and look at our working practices to ensure that we retain them.”
According to the UK Office of National Statistics, only 1.3% of employees in manual trades are women. When architects, surveyors, engineers and other professionals are counted, the percentage climbs to 11%, a number far lower than other European countries such as Sweden (25%) and Germany (15%).
The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that the UK will need to recruit more than 230,000 new employees over the next five years to deliver the number of construction projects in the pipeline. With women making up 50% of the working population of the UK, but only 11% of the construction workforce, recruiting more women into the industry is essential to meeting that target and closing the skills gap.
In supporting women build careers in all areas of construction, from entry level and trades roles, to professional construction placements, WIC has worked with more than 50 businesses to find paid employment for 600 women in the past five years, provided career advice to 1,700 more, training to a further 1,200, and work placements to 300.
Priti Patel, UK Minister of State for Employment said: “Women currently represent only 11% of the construction work-force and despite this Women into Construction has supported hundreds of women into employment with some of the biggest construction contractors in the country. It is therefore important that we not only pause to celebrate the success of Women into Construction, but that we also look to see how both government and employers can continue supporting this work in the future through on-going engagement with the construction sector.”
Crossrail Chairman Sir Terry Morgan said: “Crossrail is doing everything it can to make construction an exciting and attractive career option for women. Thanks to partnerships with organisations like Women into Construction, Crossrail has been able to give opportunities to hundreds of women who would not have considered construction as a career. The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear, but the construction industry must continue do much more to grow its talent pool and create a workforce capable of delivering the huge pipeline of projects planned.”
Tideway Head of Human Resources Julie Thornton said: “Construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel will create more than 4,000 direct jobs and, in an industry already suffering huge skills shortages, it is imperative we continue to encourage women into engineering and construction. At Tideway, we are working towards achieving gender parity in our project team and have also set our main works contractors some challenging employment targets. We know reaching these goals will be no mean feat and we cannot achieve them without the support of organisations like Women into Construction, that help raise the profile of women in construction and infrastructure, and assist the supply chain to achieve their targets. We are delighted to continue supporting Women into Construction towards their aspiration to change the face of construction.”
As an independent, not-for-profit, organization, WIC provides bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry, and assists contractors to recruit motivated, trained women. It currently works closely with more than 50 construction and infrastructure companies and local authorities, to provide them with motivated, qualified and job-ready female recruits. It seeks to normalise the position of women in the industry and intends in this way to Change the Face of Construction!
To achieve its objectives, women are offered free training in areas essential to obtaining work on construction sites, including in the Site Safety Plus, CITB Health and Safety Card, First Aid at Work, Working at Heights programmes and interview skills. The organisation covers the costs of finding full- or part-time work placements, provides tools and PPE free of charge; travel, subsistence and childcare costs are covered.
At the end of the work experience, more than 50% of employers offer the women full-time paid employment. Most of those who are not able to enter full-time work immediately, and return to WIC, are subsequently offered jobs by other support companies. Others choose to commit to a full-time apprenticeship, which WIC help to source.
Women who already hold degrees or professional qualifications are supported with careers advice and guidance, interview practice, and introductions to supporter-companies. Contractors welcome the opportunity to place or employ highly-motivated, trained women who they would not otherwise be able to access. This makes their company more open and diverse and, stats suggest, more successful explains WIC in its literature.
As part of its annual achievement event, the evening also celebrated the progress of women that the WIC supported last year. More than 160 people representing the construction industry, partner organisations and women benefiting from the service, attended the event at the House of Lords last week.
Kath Moore, Managing Director of WIC, highlighted WIC’s support of 49 women into work-placements, and 50 women into construction related jobs over the last year. A group of 37 of these attended the event to receive their awards in advancing their career in construction. Adrian Belton, Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), presented the awards and spoke passionately about the benefits of introducing construction to a younger audience and encouraging greater diversity within the industry.
Simon Wright OBE, Programme Director Crossrail, recognised the role of contractors in creating work opportunities and presented contractors with certificates. He expressed Crossrail’s commitment to working with WIC explaining that since January 2015, 11 women gained work experience on Crossrail with four securing job offers. Partner organisations were also recognised with awards presented by Jennette Arnold OBE AM, London Assembly. She was struck by the diversity of women within the audience. While applauding the contribution of participating construction companies in reducing the skills shortage in the sector, Kath Moore also set out the challenge for WIC to reach beyond tier one and two contractors within the supply chain and to reach contractors on other large projects including Thames Tideways, HS2 and projects beyond the South East. WIC is eager to hear from women wanting support into a career in construction or construction companies wanting to enhance the diversity of its workforce.