Despite initiatives to encourage women into the industry, take-up has been slow. There seems to be an underlying belief that jobs in the trade profession are only open to men.
As a YWCA and TUC report said: “Many of the occupations that have the lowest level of female participation in apprenticeships are those that are facing the most pressing skill shortages”.
If we are excluding applications from women, then we are making a bad situation worse. If we are to plug the skills gap, then we can’t afford to dismiss half the working population. Our industry is constantly updating its technical competence and proves it is forward-thinking and cares about standards. These qualities should also apply to its people.
Two of the reasons given for the poor take-up by women is the inequality that still exists. The gender pay gap among apprentices is generally greater, with females earning 21 per cent less than males.
Some women also experience a tough time on site, which is unacceptable in a modern industry. These issues are understood and yet no real progress is being made.
Many organisations provide information and help but unless more is done little progress will be made. There is now a good business case to employ more women - consumers often prefer to hire female contractors and there is an increasing requirement for companies to demonstrate equality.
The new Equality Act, which came into force in October, aims to allow for wider equality objectives to be included in public sector contracts. Those with a good mix of female and male employees will be better placed to win this work. The new law will also promote a more open culture on gender and employment and make pay more transparent.
NICEIC believes that we must do all we can to break down barriers that discourage women entering the profession. In conjunction with training provider JTL, NICEIC is working on a practical guide to provide advice and common sense solutions for work place issues.
Emma McCarthy is chief operating officer for NICEIC