If you work in the construction industry, you likely know the labor shortage has been a significant problem for some time now. Beyond just a shortage of workers, a gap in skilled labor is particularly challenging for contractors. Construction firms are struggling to find trained carpenters, welders, masons and other construction professionals.
To address this shortage, construction organizations across the country have begun focusing on women as a target demographic for hiring. Men have historically dominated the construction industry, and that dynamic has been slow to change. Today, women still make up only 9 percent of the construction workforce and only 3 percent of the skilled trades.
The positive news, though, is that the pay gap in construction is significantly lower than in almost all other industries, with women earning 95.7 percent of what men do. While that means there’s still some work to be done in terms of pay equity, it also means construction could be an appealing career for many women.
Recruiting Women to the Construction Industry
As a whole, the construction industry has a prime opportunity to proactively reach out to women, foster interest in construction work and provide training and apprenticeships. Forward-thinking leaders need to step up these efforts so that women can begin to make up a greater segment of the labor force and fill the skilled labor gap sooner rather than later.
The good news is that many contractors and municipalities across the United States are already moving in this direction by advancing their own efforts to recruit, hire and train women. Massachusetts, for example, aims to have women make up 20 percent of its construction workforce by 2020. To get women interested in these professions, the group Massachusetts Girls in Trades was formed to educate female students in middle school and high school about the industry and help them begin careers in construction.
Massachusetts isn’t alone in its efforts, either. A Michigan nonprofit called Women in Skilled Trades also focuses on helping women enter these jobs, providing training in tasks like stenciling cement, wiring outlets and framing walls. Likewise, Chicago Women in Trades provides training, resources and mentorship opportunities for women in Illinois interested in becoming bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and other skilled workers. And the Iron Workers, in April 2017, became the first building trades union to offer up to eight months of paid maternity leave. These are all examples of necessary steps toward the greater goal of recruiting the talented women the construction industry needs to fill the skilled labor gap.
Contractors Can Advance Diversity and Close the Skills Gap
Women are expressing interest in construction. Nonprofits and industry groups are providing training. But contractors have arguably the largest role to play in bringing more women into the industry. Contractors have an opportunity to advance diversity by hiring and training more women for jobs throughout their organizations—not just in the office, but also on the jobsite. To do so, they should make increasing diversity part of their business strategy and connect with the organizations training women in their area.
Yet, diversifying simply for diversity’s sake isn’t enough. Several other key challenges like sexism in career path decisions and work responsibilities among the existing—largely male—workforce, and ensuring safe, harassment-free working environments need to be properly addressed.
“Sexual harassment and hostility, lack of mentors and stereotyped assumptions about women’s capabilities all contribute to the problem,” notes the 2014 report, “Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground” produced by the National Women’s Law Center. “More must be done to reverse this trend in construction, and the growth of women’s participation in similar nontraditional fields shows that it is possible.”
If contractors are able to take a leading role by emphasizing the hiring of women and supporting them on—and off of—the jobsite, we may really begin to see a shift in the industry’s demographics. Plus, by looking to a wider labor pool to fill open jobs with skilled, engaged workers, regardless of gender, contractors can begin to solve their hiring problems, improve the talent of their construction teams and grow the industry even further.
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