No longer a man’s world

October 1, 2019

How do you change a perception that’s been around since the dawn of time – to create a construction sector that’s no longer dominated by men? It won’t happen overnight, but three years down the line, a unique training programme developed by Gateshead College and Ryder Architecture is helping to level the playing field

PlanBEE (Plan for the Built Environment), launched in 2016, is the first programme of its kind.

A higher level apprenticeship, it brings together a consortium of employers working in the industry to give young people experiences in a wide range of roles and disciplines. It’s a non-traditional route where students spend time with each of the 12 businesses over their two years of study.

Already, dozens of young people have secured jobs in the sector while the award-winning programme is helping to break down barriers and attract more females.

Nationally, the construction sector is one of the least diverse in the UK when it comes to gender. According to ONS figures, less than one per cent of 800,000 people working in the construction and building trades are women; across all areas of construction including architects, planners and surveyors, this only rises to 13 per cent. PlanBEE is breaking the mould with the latest group of students having a 50/50 gender split compared to only one female when it first launched.

Chris Toon, deputy principal at Gateshead College, explains that it’s not by chance that more women are signing up for the programme.

“As a college we have a key role to play in attracting a more diverse range of people onto courses who will then make their way into industry and challenge the status quo. With PlanBEE, ourselves and the employers involved in the programme have spent time understanding the barriers and being very proactive in our careers work with schools and marketing activity to change perceptions. It’s great to see this paying off.”

Emma’s story…

Emma Hawkins, 20, completed the PlanBEE programme this summer and has secured a full-time role as a trainee design coordinator at Sir Robert McAlpine, one of the country’s leading construction companies.

Emma says: “PlanBEE has been a breath of fresh air for the construction industry. It provides real-world experience to the future workforce and creates the opportunity to increase the number of women within the sector. It gives everyone a foot in the door, men and women.

“Because you get experience in every aspect of construction, girls are entering the programme with an interior design or architectural role in mind but finishing it wanting to be a mechanical engineer or surveyor – jobs often associated with men.”

From building services engineers, architectural technologists and construction managers, to civil and structural engineers, quantitative surveyors and building information modelling (BIM) managers, the forward-thinking programme is breaking down barriers for more females to work within the sector in various wide-reaching roles.

“Don’t get me wrong,” continues Emma, “there is an element of feeling like you need to prove yourself because you’re a woman. Do I know as much as my male colleague? Do I have the same level of experience as him?

“But you just have to remind yourself that you’ve earned the role you’re in, regardless of your gender. It is your experience that gets you places in construction, and PlanBEE gives you that.”

So, why do men outnumber women in the industry?

Emma says: “I think it’s down to a lack of awareness of what skills and roles are involved in construction. Women don’t realise the variety and opportunities the sector presents.

“I’m involved in the workshops we run with schools, and we ask pupils if they like IT, maths or physics or art and design – they’re shocked to learn how much of this applies to construction.

“This must change. School children, especially girls, need to know more about initiatives like PlanBEE and the doors it opens to careers in construction.

“Speaking as a female in the sector, you can 100 per cent make your mark and go as far as you want, and we need to get this message out there loud and clear.”

Anjana Raj, regional community manager Scotland and Northern at Sir Robert McAlpine says: “PlanBEE was designed to inspire, appeal and retain talent in the region, regardless of gender. PlanBEE not only tackles the key skills shortages but also breaks down the stereotype to ensure that the industry is accessible to all and that we can create a more diverse workforce who are capable of working across various construction disciplines.

“I reach out to the local communities, highlighting the many fantastic opportunities available in our industry. There are misconceptions about the industry and young people sometimes have little idea of the range of careers available. Sir Robert McAlpine actively engages and works with all levels of the education sector to raise awareness of initiatives like PlanBEE and the career paths within construction.”

Gateshead College

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