The secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities, highlighted the importance of women in construction at last week’s ‘Chicks with Bricks’ reception.
We are literally building a better country and making inroads into gender inequality, which is why initiatives like this, where women celebrate success in what is still a very male-dominated industry, are so important. Too often we still see women feeling ‘shut out’ of certain careers or routes into work – something that was recently highlighted in Girlguiding UK’s latest Attitudes Survey. This found that just over a third of 11-to-21-year-olds said that girls aren’t encouraged to consider apprenticeships.
For many, a job in construction still conjures up an image of a man in a high vis jacket on a building site. However, technology and innovation have changed the face of this exciting industry and long since rendered the brawn versus brains debate largely immaterial when it comes to construction.
Having visited the hugely impressive Crossrail site at Farringdon just before Christmas, I know that there’s much more to the industry, for women as well as men. I was shown around by project manager Linda Miller, who told me how she regularly goes into schools to talk to pupils and how this is changing perceptions and encouraging more young people – particularly girls – to consider careers in engineering and construction.
"It’s clear that if we’re going to meet this skills gap and see the next generation fulfil their potential, we need to get girls on board much earlier."
Nicky Morgan MP
There are many other amazing projects, up and down the country, that women are helping to drive, which are keeping our country moving, our citizens housed and our businesses thriving. Yet, these women are still very much in the minority – making up just 12.2% of the construction workforce. This is up from 10.7% in 2010, but we clearly still have a long way to go.
The UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe – just 9% compared to Sweden’s 25% or Germany’s 15%, and only 14% of entrants to engineering and technology first degree courses in 2012-13 were women.
We need 100,000 more engineers, scientists and technologists coming through every year just to replace those leaving these professions, which is why getting more women into these sectors is so absolutely critical – for women themselves, for the sector and for our country’s economy.
To achieve this, we need to go back to where it all starts – at school. As many girls as boys get the top grades in maths and science at GCSE, but far fewer girls progress to A-Level maths and science. Yet, maths and science are vital – not just for careers in construction, but for unlocking opportunities in almost every area of our global, technology-driven economy.
These subjects are also associated with higher earnings, with those in science or technological careers paid, on average, 19% more than other professions. And we know that the lack of women in top jobs in the highest-paid professions is a big factor in the gender pay gap.
At 22.8%, the gender pay gap in construction is higher than the national average. It is too high and I’m determined to see it come down further and faster, because it’s not just women who are missing out. With the need to recruit an estimated 200,000 workers by 2020 to keep up with demand, the construction sector is also missing out.
It’s clear that if we’re going to meet this skills gap and see the next generation fulfil their potential, we need to get girls on board much earlier. This is why we’re striving to inspire more of them to study STEM subjects through the Your Life campaign. We need to help young people keep their options open and inspire them to know that no career is off limits because of their gender, race or background.
The government’s aim is to boost the numbers of young people taking A-Level physics and maths by 50% within three years and to double the proportion of undergraduate engineering and technology degrees taken by women to 30% by 2030.
This will ensure that thousands more girls – as well as boys – have the qualifications, skills and confidence to fulfil their potential and benefit from the endless opportunities and rewards these disciplines bring – not just as individuals, but for the sake of our entire country.
The government can’t do this alone, which is why we’re working with businesses across the country to drive this agenda forward. Over 200 organisations have already signed up to Your Life, including Laing O’Rourke, which has pledged to aim for 30% of its apprenticeship and cadet programme to be taken up by women by 2016.
In June we announced a £30m fund to increase the supply of engineers, particularly female engineers and the government is setting up a new careers and enterprise company to transform careers guidance. This will encourage employers, schools and colleges to work together more closely to help young people consider all possible career options – including, of course, construction.
We’re also promoting collaboration through our support for the Education and Employers’ Taskforce, and I urge you to sign up to the Inspiring the Future scheme, which involves going into a school and speaking to young people about what you do and how you got there.
We all have a part to play and nothing hammers home the message that no subjects, no jobs, no careers, are off limits for our daughters, sisters and friends, than having role models like you.
Women make up half of our population. So we must continue to help them fulfil their potential. This is something I am personally absolutely committed to. As the secretary of state for education and the minister for women and equalities, there’s nothing more I want to see than us making the most of their talents and their experiences – in construction, in the STEM industries, in whatever path they choose.
Let’s work together to make this happen.
This speech has been edited, see the original here.