Local authorities and public sector clients should do more to monitor and enforce their equality and diversity policies to help increase the number of people employed from ethnic minorities in the construction sector.
Speaking at a conference in London on “How do we increase ethnic minority employment”, Bola Abisogun, the founder of Hackney based specialist, Urbanis, said that local authorities and public sector clients often expected their contractors to comply with equality and diversity requirements, but then did not bother to monitor how they were working in practice. The public sector still accounts for 40% of the industry’s £105bn turnover.
Abisogun said: “Local authorities all say they have a commitment to using local labour, using local companies, and a diverse workforce, but do they have measure whether this is happening or not?
Urbanis specialises in doing packages of work for main contractors involved in the refurbishment of social housing in London. Urbanis’s clients are tier one contractors which are on public sector frameworks. “Diversity is not just a moral consideration, but a strong business case exists as well,” said Abisogun.
A report from the Quality and Human Rights Commission in 2009 – Inquiry into Race in the Construction Industry – was highly critical of the industry’s track record on diversity. Just 3% of the workforce – fewer than 100,000 people out of 3 million, were from a non-white background. It said that the Race Relations Act of 2009 had had no impact and that there was a dire need to enforce monitoring.
Attitudes were’t changing, said Abisogun, despite the growth in ethnic minority population, which currently makes up 12% of the population and which is expected to double in the next 25 years.
At the conference, organised by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Abisogun also called for:
- Greater promotion of traineeships to BME communities and the development of a national apprenticeship database;
- Requirement for all businesses to sign up to and engage with an equality and diversity scheme;
- Commitment from local authorities that all procurement opportunities be more transparent with annual ‘efficiency’ statements released for public scrutiny.
Clare Bonson, head of business development and support for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) said that NAS could and should not tell employers what to do, the service can only encourage, persuade and support employers in increasing ethnic minority employment.
Meanwhile, Abisogun’s calls for more transparency and monitoring among the public sector was reinforced by Sandra Kerr OBE, national campaign director for Race for Opportunity, also raised the need for transparency as a key tool for creating greater employment opportunities for ethnic minorities. She not only called for greater transparency with regards to selection criteria, but she also called for a greater monitoring of the workforce as well as tracking by ethnicity.
“It is only by making sure that information on selection criteria, but also on elements like career progression, is indeed collected and is made publically available, that it becomes possible to create a real cultural shift with regards to the employment opportunities for ethnic minorities,” said Kerr.