Construction is very much for the girls
It is the season to be thinking about careers, and many A-Level students are giving careful consideration to what they will do in relation to study and employment in the years ahead.
One of the big trends in recent times has been that traditionally male-dominated sectors have been making real efforts to attract more women – and this is hopefully opening more doors for female talent.
In this respect, I was impressed to read about the recent IT Girls event at Belfast Metropolitan College – you won’t be surprised to hear that it was about giving young women a flavour of life in the IT sector. I was also pleased to find out that Novosco Cloud Camp – another local initiative to promote the IT sector to young people – had about 50 per cent female participation.
Clearly the IT sector realises that attracting more women is key to dealing with skills shortages. And it’s something that the construction sector – which is also becoming more technology-focused – has also been doing in recent years. International Women in Engineering Day took place in June, with an event in Titanic Belfast. And I am pleased that RICS has been taking a leading role in the issued of getting more women into the property and construction sectors, for instance with our Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, to which local companies such as Heron Brothers have signed up.
For background, of the 80,000 qualified surveyors in the UK, only 14 per cent are female. The statistics in Northern Ireland specifically will be no better. But things are changing – there are pockets of good practice and, more importantly, there is a growing understanding of the business need for a more diverse workforce.
The reality is that companies with greater female board representation have been seen to outperform the mono-culture boards financially: with 42 per cent greater return on sales; 53 per cent better return on equity and 66 per cent higher return on investment capital.
And then there is the issue of skills shortages, which is having a considerable impact upon the property and construction sector. Lack of trained people is forcing many companies to put aside their assumptions about the “right” candidates for the job, and so they are beginning to seek out talent in new places – this is to be welcomed.
With this in mind, RICS has made a fresh call to female A-level talent in Northern Ireland to consider a career in the land, property and construction sectors, and help meet increasing demand for a more diverse workforce and profession, whilst bridging the skills gap.
At present, women only account for about 24 per cent of our student membership. This should be higher, and the reality is that there are equal opportunities for women in the industry. But we do recognise that one of the biggest obstacles in attracting more talent from under-represented groups is the influencers, such as teachers, parents and careers advisors who are not aware of the vast range of surveying careers available for all; not just in construction – though it is the area where females are particularly under-represented – but across land, property and construction.
With this in mind – along with the need to alleviate the skills epidemic - we’re taking steps to raise awareness of the surveying profession amongst young people and its appeal for both sexes. We are about to launch our Inspire 2020 programme, which will involve going into schools and talking to children aged 13-15 about the roles and opportunities available for all in the industry. RICS is also working with vloggers to showcase how an interest in technology, fashion or retail can lead to such a career in surveying.
So, what do surveyors do? In simple terms, without surveyors – nothing would get built. Surveyors design, value and protect all our physical assets around the world – from our homes, airports, schools, shopping outlets to sports stadiums, historic buildings and even roads, lakes and forests.
The increasing use of technology, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), drones, virtual reality and augmented reality, is changing the skill set necessary for many roles in the property industry. This is helping to attract a more diverse range of professionals to the sectors. However, more needs to be done. We need to ensure that an industry that is shaping the world around us is not being decided by one group of people.
Dr Patrice Cairns is RICS policy manager in Northern Ireland. RICS is the principal independent body representing professionals employed in the land, property and construction sectors. In Northern Ireland, the organisation represents 4,000 cross-sectoral members comprising of chartered and associate surveyors, trainees and students.