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Editors Comment: Skill shortages? What about employing women?

SOME 50,000 women have a university level qualification in science, engineering, construction and technology - and do not have jobs in these industries.
Editors Comment: Skill shortages? What about employing women?

This represents too many missed opportunities.

I remember back in the January 2003 issue where I asked the question: Where are all the women in this industry? I have since found out that there are precious few.

The 50,000 figure comes from Jive, part of the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, and a body which helps (for our purpose here) women to return to work after a break.

I spoke to Jan Kinory, project manager of Return, who explained there were some good reasons these women had given up their careers such as child rearing, caring for sick relatives or indeed when a partner moves job and home.

But there are other stories such as sexual discrimination and bullying among co-workers and inflexibility from employers.

The first two speak volumes in themselves. But my question is: Why in 2007 should women in construction have to fight their corner when they are accepted in all other areas of business?

More telling, perhaps, is the inflexibility of employers!

Jan said she did not see why a woman who was able to work five days at week for six hours a day couldn't hold down a job as a project manager on a site. However, most employers advertised the job as full time and were not prepared to try 'part-time'.

Jan also said the workforce is changing. Employers of building services firms can no longer expect to employ 'a white, male Brit of between 25 and 45' every time.

Life is not like that any more.

Furthermore, she adds, there could be a financial gain for people who recognise this and exploit it. For instance, there are now a number of firms who employ only women for jobs such as plumbing or working in other people's homes.

There are, she says, plenty of reasons why women are better for 'customer facing activities'. For instance, there are plenty of women living alone - or who are alone during the day - who do not want to let men into their homes. The same applies to the elderly or vulnerable, perhaps.

I know of at least a couple of all-women cab firms which trade on the fact that women do not wish to get into a cab alone with a male driver at any time, especially late at night.

And Mal Emerson of Unit 19 Training in Port Talbot,which trains youngsters and women for jobs in construction, has a team of women who operate a Handy Mandy service which helps the elderly and vulnerable with plumbing and electrical jobs.

So employers should recognise that it is not just about tapping into an under-utilised skill base. As well as helping with the skill shortages, there is a chance of another profit stream.

Building Services employers cannot afford to ignore half of the workforce of this country just because they might have to put two portaloos on site.


Paul Braithwaite, Editor
1 February 2007

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