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Business & Economy

Viewpoint: Angela Carney, managing director at Carney Consultancy

Angela Carney, managing director at Carney Consultancy and director at Carney CDM, has worked in the construction industry for over 32 years. She is a board member of Constructing Excellence in the North East, vice chair of Northern Counties Builders Federation, co-chair of the North East branch of Working Well Together, National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC-NE) and the Lighthouse Club Construction Charity. She explores how the construction sector needs to rethink its approach to attracting women and young people into the trades.

I am pleased the construction sector, particularly in the North East, has advanced its thinking on a number of topics, not least its attitude towards attracting, retaining and supporting women within the workplace.

The male-dominated culture is shifting, there is a will to collaborate and sector bodies such as Constructing Excellence in the North East (CENE), Construction Alliance Network (CAN), Northern Counties Builders Federation (NCBF) and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) have each played a huge role in breaking down the barriers.

Highlighting and helping to progress the career of women in the sector is something that I am passionate about and it stems from my experience and a desire to help make a change, so that women do not feel excluded and are on an equal footing to their male counterparts.

I am proud that Carney CDM has an equal split in terms of female and male directors.

We also have women who work for me who are part-time and it was on that basis that we attracted them. Many women don’t want to work full time, especially when they have a family. I think the lack of flexibility is why we lose them. Post pandemic, work-life balance is key, it’s not just about the salary.

Early in my career I faced a lot of discrimination and having children went against me.

On the flip side, it made me want to be my own boss and Carney Consultancy was a result of my determination to be in control of my destiny.

Many years later, I am still as passionate. The industry has a massive skills shortage and it is still discounting 50% of the population by not highlighting the career routes for women. Recent Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) research has shown that just two per cent of those outside construction see it as their preferred industry to work in.

The CITB is calling on construction employers to rethink how they attract their workforce as competition for skilled workers gets more intense.

What we need to ensure is that opportunities for women are more visible and more accessible. We also need to look at a grass roots approach and start in schools. Highlight the career paths for young people and also challenge employers. Why would young people want to embark on an apprenticeship if they receive low pay.

This I would say needs to go back to government level as they set the apprenticeship wages and they increase the minimum wage. In my opinion, they need to increase this considerably especially with the current economic pressures.

Young people from families with lower incomes may have to forfeit FT education (college) and get a paid job to help contribute to the household, a higher apprenticeship wage would minimise this possibly.

When it comes to the benefits of apprenticeships to employers, according to research from the CITB, the most common answer is that they allow the business to train people the way they want or mould them to how they do things (74%).

The second most common response is that apprentices improve or maintain skill levels (58%). Larger businesses were more likely to select this option. Conversely, smaller businesses were more likely to say that apprenticeships increase productivity.

It was pleasing to see the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) recently announced that its current CIOB Tomorrow’s Leaders cohort is composed of more than 40% of females. Research attained by Mark Harrison, equality, diversity and inclusion champion at the CIOB shared that currently women only make up around 14% of the workforce, so to have more than 40% of women within its cohort is very promising.

Research from Rethinking Recruitment shows that people who have little contact with the industry, often have limited knowledge of what construction can offer, while negative perceptions and misconceptions surrounding culture and behaviours persist. The report also found only three-in-ten (30%) of outsiders feel construction is ‘for someone like them’.

However, the Rethinking Recruitment research shows construction has the chance to address these perceptions and appeal to a much wider group. The industry is described by those inside as one that offers generous pay, opportunities for progression and a varied working environment.

What we need to continue to do is to highlight this to people outside of our industry.

In some instances, word-of-mouth recruitment used by construction employers can harm the industry’s opportunity for creating a more diverse workplace. We need our message to reach the right people.

The benefits of working within the North East include our network. We have dedicated recruitment organisations working within construction such as Randstad Recruitment who can continue to help source a strong talent pool.

We need look no closer than the continued good work of the regional construction sector and its OneVoice construction strategy, which aims to build a successful, sustainable and inclusive construction industry, equipped with the people and technology to deliver a carbon neutral built environment by 2050.

Construction has massive strengths, such as the ability to make a positive impact, including its contribution to Net Zero. It also offers variation, the opportunity to specialise and continual career progression.

It is also crucial that we continue to promote and champion women throughout our regional networks such as the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).

Going back to my earlier point about raising awareness within schools, NAWIC plays a crucial role in encouraging females in construction to go back into our educational providers and showcase their career progression to other young females.

It is also great to see organisations within the region develop academies so that young people can progress, Applebridge Construction being one example and the work of Esh Construction and its commitment to working with schools and organisations within the region via its Building My Skills campaign. This programme provides students with a rounded introduction to the world of work.

We need to continue to look outwards to add value so that we can tap into young talent and highlight attractive career opportunities.

More needs to be done but we are slowly moving in the right direction.