‘More effort’ needed to recruit women into the industry

Jane Nelson, executive director at Mears, exclusively tells 24housing more needs to be done to recruit women into construction and the trades because it is “obviously the right thing to do”.


No business case should need to be made to employ more women in trades and construction, says Jane Nelson of Mears.

The executive director said that with women holding just 12% of the jobs in construction, many of those in back office rooms, there was a need to “look at the other 50% of the population.”

She said just 1% of tradespeople are women with female apprentices standing at 2%.

“This broader 12% will never be able to get better if the female apprenticeship level is so low.

“If we can start with the trades, we can change the face of the industry. Many young women who can go into trades jobs can earn good money and work their way up the ladder.”

She says no business case is needed, calling the need “obvious”.

She added: “We cannot ignore half of the population, it is only right that you have a workforce that reflects the communities which you are working in.

“We need to look at the whole of the national workforce. Only 46% are in work and of these, only 4% are in construction or the trades.”

She said housing associations and local authorities can help, using their powers in social value.

“Getting more women into work, in particular the trades, can have real social value. Especially if you’re working with women in social housing.

“There are lots of reasons why there should be more women in construction and housing more widely, but one of the main ones is that it is obviously the right thing to do.

“We have to start to change the attitudes around this, in society and in families too. Often jobs in trades are “man’s work” but it was not always like that. In the 80s, there was more women than there are now. That isn’t forgetting the enormous amount of women that were in the trades during and after the war.

“More controversially but no less true is the perception of many CEOs in the industry that they employ enough women. They didn’t all say that, and in some cases there were bemused CEOs saying they couldn’t believe others thought they did.

“But this shows just the extent of the problem.”

But Nelson is not just standing by complaining about the lack of representation. She, in partnership with other figures in the sector and backing from Mears, are starting to make a difference.

She is speaking at a variety of conferences and getting others in the sector and wider on board with her projects.

One such project is that of “changing the perception of those in schools” by creating a toolkit and going in to see a range of age groups.

Nelson explains more: “We send in a female role model, although it is not all directed at the girls in the class, to try and change the perceptions.

“They don’t have to be a Mears representative, we have given them out to other sector players to do the same thing too.

“The toolkits have been increasingly successful as they are combined with the curriculum, so teachers can say this is part of a maths class etc.

“We have toolkits that fit in with Key Stage 1, 2 and 3 – helping with numeracy and literacy. The classes have gone down really well and we are now hoping they will start to be used more widely.”

But this is not the only way they are trying to change the face of the industry.

“We also run taster course in association with groups such as United Welsh and Wandle. The next time they took on apprentices after the taster days, they took on four female apprentices, it was a great result.”

On top of this, they have launched a best practice guide, so organisations are able to know who best to speak to in order to achieve the best results.

But their plans also tackle the procurement side of housing: “We have another way, which is that a legal guidance has been created for procurers so that when social housing providers are procuring contracts, there is a guidance of what is possible from the tender from the bidding contracts.

“We have to encourage contractors to help employ a more diverse workforce.”

But Nelson stressed it was not all about younger women coming into the industry: “Women who have had another career before often see the trades as a good career to go into. They have had responsibilities and have the softer skills that help in communities.

“They can explain the work in the home and are often more likely to keep it clean and tidy.”

She finishes by saying more needs to be done if the landscape is to change: “It is about putting in a bit more effort.

“We have to do more to recruit, develop and support these people that want to come into the sector, we need to be warm and welcoming.”