As most people will know by now, today is International Women’s Day. There are many reasons why this is important – for every industry – however, it is of particular importance to Ireland’s construction industry today, which has a 94.5% male workforce. Let’s be clear, this is not simply a gender issue. The industry has struggled to attract new talent, male and female, with apprenticeship rates dropping to below 3,500 in recent years. Over the past 18 to 24 months, representative bodies have been actively trying to promote building surveying, engineering, construction, real estate management and finance as career viable options once again, but we have yet to see any significant pick up. This is a very real challenge for the sector as recent reports show that Ireland needs approximately 112,000 additional workers by 2020 to deliver on Rebuilding Ireland output targets.This is less than two years away and we still have no idea where this workforce is going to come from.
It is no secret that we have an ageing workforce, with fewer and fewer people waiting in the wings as older workers retire. This problem is not unique to Ireland, it is a global trend. More than a trend, it is a genuine concern for businesses struggling to attract and retain skilled tradespeople and site-competent workers. The State and it’s training agency Solas have joined in the campaign to retrain and help unemployed and under-employed people to up-skill across a range of different areas, and this is welcome; however, businesses themselves need to start taking action. It is not a moral debate; it is a financial imperative.
We know from speaking to industry clients that they are finding it difficult to hire in the current market, which is understandable given the dearth of newly-qualified tradespeople coming through system right now. There can be no doubt that the fallout of the global economic crash and reputational damage is largely to blame for this, but might the obvious lack of diversity be contributing to the problem?
The industry has long been described as “male, pale and stale”.This is perhaps unfair, however, it is not entirely inaccurate. The talent pool available to industry employers right now is small and in danger of shrinking further. Bringing in apprentices, graduates, professionals with cross-over skills and senior executives from outside the industry makes sense, their gender, gender identification, ethnicity or other factors should not even enter the equation.
Last year, the Construction Industry Federation launched their #BuildingEquality initiative to encourage diversity right across the spectrum, not just with gender. For 2018, the CIF team are running a yearlong campaign to tell the stories of women in the industry, in the hope that it will inspire a new generation to follow in their footsteps. Greater diversity at all levels, particularly in the C-suite and at board level, has been proven to improve decision-making (avoiding ‘group think’) and increase revenues, as well as having a whole host of other benefits for an organisation. But where to start?
The next steps are obviously targeting children, both boys and girls, at primary school level and incorporating elements of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into their early learning. This will make it natural for them to carry on these subjects as they prepare for Junior Cycle and the Leaving Certificate.
Interestingly, another potential step is to actively recruit senior level executives from other industries. Construction and real estate are unique in grooming their future leaders from within the ranks, however, the existing skill-set simply might not lend itself to the era of digital construction that we are heading towards. Diversity need to be considered during the recruitment process. Yes, we want to see the right person in the right job but this means changing how we shortlist candidates and challenging ourselves to overcome our unconscious biases. But the rewards for this done well can be great. More than that, it opens up the business to new perspectives on challenges that other industries have already overcome, like managing digital transformation across the organisation. In the past, construction and, to a lesser extent, real estate have been quite insular when it comes to careers. People tended to drift in straight from school or university, rise up through the ranks in a pretty straight line and then stay in their last position until retirement. This is already starting to change. As emerging technologies look set to redefine roles within the industry, there is an opportunity for expanding businesses to grow in a diverse and inclusive way. It makes business sense. As always, we would be interested to hear your take on this…
Director / Business Development
Lotus Investment Group