Thursday 17 October 2019

The right moves: Women are the answer to skills shortage in the construction industry

Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

The construction industry in Ireland, and all professions associated with it, are operating at full capacity, with all sectors reporting problems in recruiting staff. This is causing some problems and construction professionals are telling me that it has become difficult to get snagging lists attended to, and indeed to get companies to tender for work.

All that is understandable when one remembers that there were 250,000 people involved in the industry before the crash, and that less than 100,000 people are now handling the equivalent of three-quarters of the pre-crash workload.

But the labour shortage has real implications for the economy and society. The industry will struggle to deliver critical government strategies in housing and infrastructure, such as the National Development Plan (NDP). But, surely, employing more women in the sector would make a big difference. The CSO estimates that only 5pc of those employed in the sector are women, and a recent report by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) says that just 10pc of its member firm employees are women. Men account for between 97pc and 99pc of senior management roles.

So why can't the industry attract more women? Krystyna Rawicz, a pioneer in the building surveying world, says that the problem is a cultural one. She reports that women commonly work as electricians, plumbers and in other trades, in eastern-European countries. Whilst she has blazed a trail as a role model for the professions and the trades here, she reports that there is zero interest from schools in hearing from her as part of the SCSI Outreach programme. Nor is she aware of "any effort by any body, to attract women into the trades."

The problem struck her last week when she ran a series of meetings with contractors, quantity surveyors, architects, engineers, mechanical and electrical and facades consultants, as part of an €11m development project she is managing. She was the only woman at any of the meetings.

The CIF certainly recognises the problem and has come up with a series of recommendations to members on how they can achieve a better gender balance. The CIF is of the view that "gender-stereotyping, and an outdated image of the industry, are contributing to the low number of women taking construction subjects at second level and entering into apprenticeships".

Better health and safety and increasing use of technology are making the industry more attractive to young people. But I suggest that the most powerful impact will be made by role models such as Carole Smillie, Director with Bennett Construction and Bennett Property; Anne Dooley, Managing Director of Winthrop Engineering; and Tara Flynn, Director of Paul Flynn Construction and the first female Chair of the CIF Galway branch.

As part of its year long "Building Equality Campaign", the CIF also has an excellent section on its website showing videos of women role models, and I encourage every school to show these to their students. As Louise Martin, Environmental Health and Safety Advisor with Walls Construction concludes: "The industry doesn't care if you are a man or a woman."

Dublin 8 Is Ripe For Investment

On Friday last I was at the Teeling Whiskey Distillery in Newmarket, D8, to speak at an event organised by technology company, Oracle. John David, Oracle's Corporate Account Manager for Ireland explained that Oracle has completely revitalised its HCM cloud solution with emerging technologies, allowing HR professionals, managers and execs to spend more of their time engaging directly with their employees - a strategy I was encouraging myself in this column recently.

I handled a lot of properties in Dublin 8 over my years as an agent, but I have lost touch with the area more recently. However, my eyes were opened when I saw the numbers of people walking around. There are three cranes at Newmarket and a number of new developments are planned. Newmarket, a pleasant cobblestoned square, surrounded by mostly industrial buildings, is being transformed.

At the heart of this regeneration is the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, a largely-new building of 4,000 sq m, which is bringing throngs of visitors and tour buses into the area. Over 500 people toured the distillery on Friday and Jack Teeling told us that they are exporting to over 60 countries.

Of course, it would have been a better strategy five years ago, but with plenty of under-utilised properties in the Newmarket and Liberties area, it strikes me that that this location, near St Stephens Green, has huge potential.

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