When many of us hear the word “construction”, our immediate thoughts turn to scenes of cranes, bulldozers and men wearing hard hats. And while these images do depict one aspect of construction, they’re not the whole blueprint…
This archetypal construction worker is shifting: firstly because more and more women are entering the industry (even though there is a long way to go for gender equality), and secondly, because construction encompasses far more than just those who work hands-on at building sites (although these employees are, of course, the bricks and mortar of the industry).
Like many industries in the UK – and indeed worldwide – construction has had its fair share of hiccoughs in recent times. Indeed, over the past five years, the industry has gone through one of its most challenging periods since World War II. But, despite a 9% fall in output in 2012, it’s not all doom and gloom for the future: recruitment in construction is forecast to run at an average of 29,050 new employees a year from now until 2017 (in most part replacing those leaving the sector).
While active employment growth is expected only in Greater London and the east of England, an industry report from the Construction Skills Network (www.cskills.org) anticipates growth between 2013 and 2015 for construction. This would see the number of employees reaching 6.2% above 2011 levels by 2015.
The gender diversity path
As is the case for many male-dominated sectors, women are severely under-represented in the construction industry – and although more female workers are attracted to working in the field, there remains a lot of work to be done. “Just over one per cent of on-site employees are female,” says Judy Lowe, Deputy Chair for the CITB-Construction Skills, “and this needs to change sooner rather than later.
“We’ve been working hard to redress the balance, and to encourage more women to consider a career in construction. A more diverse and representative workforce, both on- and off-site, will strengthen construction’s skills base, and render it better placed to compete internationally.”
Recent developments during, and indeed following, the London 2012 Olympics saw more women enter construction. The Women into Construction Programme, run by training board BeOnSite (www.beonsite.org.uk) and supported by CITB-ConstructionSkills, trained 248 women on the Olympic Park site from 2008 to 2011 – and by June 2012, it had trained a further 155 women.
Other schemes are being introduced to increase the diversity of employees in the construction industry. The new Construction Industry Leadership Forum for Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) aims to increase the number of ethnic minorities, women and disabled people in the industry – and is built up of industry professional bodies, including the UK Contractors Group, the Construction Industry Council, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the National Federation of Builders. As Lowe comments: “Nowadays, construction is for everybody and, with an ageing white male workforce, diversity is no longer a luxury or ‘nice to have’; it just makes sound business sense.”
Vocational training has long been one of the most common routes into the construction industry. Gaining hands-on experience – and getting a feel for projects on the ground – is the one of the best ways to get to grips with the sector. Despite this, the number of people starting construction apprenticeships has dropped by 14.6% to 24,000 – and without a significant increase in the number of entrants each year (the Construction Skills Network found that 29,050 new starts are required to replace leaving workers), there could be a dramatic impact on the industry. So if you’re interested in getting onto the ladder in a hard-working industry, an apprenticeship could be ideal pathway. As with any job or course, apprenticeships are not a one-size-fits-all route, so here are your apprenticeship options if you’re looking to build a construction career:
Traditional apprenticeships This is the most common vocational route taken in construction, and combines studying at college with experience on-site over a two- or three-year period. By undertaking an apprenticeship, you will achieve an NVQ qualification or SVQ (if you live in Scotland) which, along with a Health and Safety Test, will be required if you wish to qualify for an industry card scheme (often required for on-site work). The traditional apprenticeship has two levels: intermediate and advanced: the former is the equivalent to five GCSE passes, and the latter, two A-level passes.
Higher apprenticeships The higher apprenticeship is only available in England, and is designed for a range of management, technical and supervision roles in construction. It is the highest level of apprenticeship available in the framework, and so is designed for those who have already studied at advanced level in an apprenticeship, or have significant work experience and wish to professionally qualify as a Construction Manager, or similar. The equivalent to a Foundation degree, it enables apprentices to go on to Further and Higher Education once qualified – perhaps to study a BA (Hons) Professional Practice in Construction Operations Management, for instance. Just like traditional apprenticeships, it combines on- and off-the-job training.
Study a specialism
For those people looking to carve a trade in a specialist construction sector, Specialist Apprenticeship Programmes (SAP) may prove the best route. The apprenticeships cover areas such as Industrial Concrete Flooring and Chimney Engineering, delivered by the industry professional body, ConstructionSkills, in partnership with a number of trade associations across the UK. Of course, the specialist nature of these apprenticeships means training can start throughout the year – depending on the number of new apprentices for each trade. Again, through this apprenticeship, you would achieve a NVQ qualification.
Words: Jessie Bland
[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in May 2013]