By Dr Graham Paterson, Executive Director, City Building

IT’S no secret that the construction industry suffers from a gender imbalance. Across the UK, around 11 per cent of the construction workforce is female with only two per cent of female workers employed in craft trade roles.

The lack of diversity is contributing to a serious skills shortage. According to the trade body CITB there was a shortfall of about 6,400 construction workers in Scotland last year.

At City Building we’ve invested a great deal of time and energy into attracting a wider range of employees to help futureproof our business and continue to innovate. We know we have a long way to go, but we’re confident that we are making progress. Last year we conducted benchmarking research that found more than half of our senior management are women. We also employ 20 per cent of all female craft trade apprentices in Scotland. But when we asked our suppliers to take part in similar research, it soon became clear they need much more support to tackle equality issues in their businesses.

According to the study, which was funded by the Scottish Government and carried out by GenAnalytics, 83 per cent of staff employed at our suppliers were male and 17 per cent female. While these figures are broadly in line with national gender balance, 47 per cent of the companies did not employ staff with an ethnic background. Our suppliers recognise that more work needs to be done and we will continue to work with them.

During subsequent workshops held with our SME suppliers, employers said that construction needed to improve its image and claimed that it is often seen as the “last resort” for youngsters who have been unable to secure other employment. They described how young people who didn’t really want the job in the first place quickly became demotivated and failed to complete their apprenticeships, leaving businesses back at square one.

Building better relationships with schools and colleges, they suggested, could help to promote construction as a positive career choice. As one of Scotland’s biggest construction firms we often visit schools to showcase the jobs available in the industry and encourage new talent into the sector. The sessions, led by our former apprentices, also aim to challenge perceptions that young people might have about construction.

But the simple fact is that our supply chain, which consists of much smaller businesses, don’t have the resources to do this. Sending staff into schools means fewer people in the job – potentially jeopardising income and deadlines.

The answer, as GenAnalytics’ report recommends, is for education providers to work with employers to standardise engagement and educate young people about the opportunities available in construction. Helping teachers gain a greater understanding of the industry and the variety of jobs available, taster sessions for students, work placements, open days and creating marketing materials for both pupils and their parents should be considered as part of the approach.

As senior school pupils across Scotland embark on exams as part of their National and Higher qualifications, I’d encourage them to consider a career in construction. And I’d encourage education providers and construction businesses to start thinking about what a future partnership would look like.

Scotland’s construction industry and its supply chain employs more than 170,000 – 10 per cent of the Scottish industry – with up to a further 60,000 self-employed workers. It contributes £21.5bn to Scotland’s GDP and contributes 10 per cent of Scotland’s GVA.

If we don’t work out how to get a wider range of talent into the industry, it is not just our young people who are in danger of losing out on rewarding careers; our economy is also at risk.