UK’s house-building industry must do more to attract women and young people to avoid workforce crisis

Research shows

House builders need to do more to attract women and young people if the industry is to avoid a workforce crisis, new research from the NHBC Foundation has found.

NHBC Foundation report: The gender and age profile of the house-building sector warns of a significant shortfall in workers caused by an over-reliance on an ageing, male-dominated workforce and potential restrictions to migrant labour following Brexit.

With estimates showing that the sector needs to recruit 700,000 more people to replace those retiring or moving on, plus an extra 120,000 if the government’s aim to build one million new homes by 2020 is to be achieved (source: The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model), the NHBC Foundation report calls on government and house builders to recognise the seriousness of the problem and to act now to address the shortfall.

The report, based on data from the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey and detailed interviews with house-building companies and senior industry commentators, provides valuable insights into age and gender diversity within the house-building sector. Just 12% of the UK’s house building workforce is female, the majority working in secretarial or administration jobs, with less than 4% having a skilled trade role. The report also finds that young people, especially girls, are put off working in the industry because of the negative, stereotypical image of a male-dominated house-building industry.

Some of the major challenges for the industry in attracting women and young people include:
 

  • Working conditions - the belief that all work in the industry takes place outdoors in all weathers
  • Fears of a sexist environment - concerns about the language and behaviour of male workers on site
  • Poor hiring and recruitment practices  - over reliance on gender-biased recruitment literature and advertising and over-use of personal contacts and networks to recruit workers
  • Skills shortages - cycles of recession and growth mean that many skilled workers leave the industry during downturns, which has a knock-on effect of reducing the talent pool
  • Outsourcing of site staff - a large proportion ofon-site trade roles are managed by sub-contractors, and therefore house-building companies themselves have little say on who is actually working on site.

One of the main findings of the report is that women are still seriously under-represented in skilled, technical and managerial roles in house building. It identifies a number of challenges that need to be tackled by the sector, and the broader construction industry, that are deep-rooted and endemic, such as ongoing stereotyping and antiquated recruitment practices.

Uninformed and outdated careers advice in schools is also failing to make all young people aware of the variety of jobs and roles on offer, with advisers unable to promote effectively the many attractive career opportunities in the sector.

Chi Onwurah MP said: “Having worked as an electrical engineer for two decades I know the importance of achieving greater diversity in male-dominated professions. Like NHBC, I believe more can be done to promote opportunities for  women in the house-building sector and inspire the sector’s next generation of female leaders. It’s hugely encouraging to see NHBC recognise that diversity isn’t an optional add-on but a key measure of success in the modern world.”

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