Building female apprenticeships

Written by
Tom Ritchie

09 Oct 2017

09 Oct 2017 • by Tom Ritchie

For every woman starting a construction apprenticeship there are 56 men. To encourage greater female representation in the field, construction company ISG has signed the Young Women’s Pledge, an initiative designed to encourage young women to consider apprenticeship programmes. We spoke to Jane Falconer, HR director at ISG, about how it is creating an inclusive culture.

How do you build a culture that is inclusive of women in a male-dominated industry?

ISG is a construction services company that employs 2,800 specialists across 24 countries in fit out, construction, technology and development. We’re always looking to hire people with a range of skills and knowledge.

We are focused on becoming better, smarter and more innovative than ever before. To do this we need like-minded people from a range of backgrounds, so building a culture that is inclusive of women has been an ongoing goal for some time.

We’re always looking at new ways of sending this message out to prospective ISG team members and changing the old stereotypical views of the construction sector as a male-dominated working environment. Most recently, we signed the Young Women’s Pledge to increase the number of young women in construction apprenticeships.

The danger with not having a team that represents a variety of backgrounds and skills is that you develop a skills gap. That’s why we have taken positive action to build on the work we already do to ensure that more women consider a career in construction.

What skills are essential for the future of the business? And how will signing the Young Women’s Pledge help you train young women to acquire these skills?

Today’s fast-paced world demands more than just a safe pair of hands, so it’s crucial that employees can think big, collaborate widely and meaningfully, and build in real capacity for change in everything they do. For this reason, everything we do at ISG is focused on the shared goal of delivering the places of tomorrow.

Signing the pledge allows us to enhance our apprenticeship schemes and build on the work we do to ensure a fully inclusive experience for all of our future talent.

In your opinion why are careers based on STEM subjects not more popular with young women?

Taking construction specifically, a lot of women are unaware of the variety of roles available within the sector. People think that if you work in the construction sector you must be based on a building site, which doesn’t necessary appeal to everyone. We want to demonstrate the wide range of roles available within our industry so that every potential recruit knows of the opportunities that exist, whether on-site or office based.

The industry also needs to encourage women to continue to use their STEM skills in the workplace. For example, one of our engineers revealed recently that only a few of her female classmates studying civil engineering at university ended up becoming engineers. Most either chose to go into a career in quality control or health and safety.

How can we encourage more women to pursue STEM subjects and careers?

We need more education around the variety of roles available to women and collaboratively push beyond those old-fashioned stereotypical views of the construction sector. For example, we developed a scheme called WOWEX that allows young people still at school to explore a broad variety of roles within the industry through simulated work experience placements. This can be anything from engineering to business development and has been effective in broadening people’s horizons to construction.

What is ISG doing to retain its female employees?

Unless companies are pro-active, women will remain under-represented in the construction sector. The UK needs more construction workers, and part of meeting that demand is encouraging more women to seriously consider a career in the sector. Small changes, like adapting the language used in job adverts can have highly beneficial outcomes. It’s about providing development, coaching and mentoring to support not just entry into the sector, but development throughout.

For every woman starting a construction apprenticeship there are around 56 men. Conversely, women are 35% more likely to go to university. What would you say to a young woman who may be considering going to university out of a sense of necessity, who could achieve the same career through an apprenticeship?

It’s important to know what your options are, as there’s not one way into a career in the construction industry, nor is it restricted to working on-site. In fact, some of the most exciting roles, utilising cutting edge technology and robotics demand skillsets that are certainly not typically perceived as being within the built environment.

University is not necessarily for everyone - a university degree gives you valuable learning and life experiences, but studying on a longer apprenticeship scheme gives you first hand work experience, which can be extremely valuable. It all depends on what you are looking for and what learning environment suits you the best.

Construction is a unique sector in that it caters for both entry paths, and there is not one singular way into building a career in construction. These paths may vary with time, learning environment and costs, but it’s about assessing the progress you want to make in starting your career.