Australia’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in nearly 50 years – currently sitting at just 3.5 per cent. Despite the overwhelming majority of the population holding secure employment, the proportion of vacant jobs across the country is at a record high.
Australia’s construction industry is feeling this pinch with an extreme shortage of skilled workers at a time when the pipeline of work across the country is peaking. As the situation worsens, and the sector attempts to tackle the problem, experts warn it could be a defining issue for the next ten years. Accordingly, it is imperative we start thinking strategically about the different ways we can attract new talent.
Women make up just 25.9 per cent of Australia’s construction industry, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). By striving to increase this number through attracting, retaining, and supporting women in their respective fields, the industry will not only bolster its number of skilled staff, but reap the benefits of higher numbers of women in construction jobs as well.
While it sounds easy in theory, there are a number of barriers stopping women from choosing a career in construction. A lack of education and promotion of the industry at primary and secondary school levels is one of these barriers, but one with a viable solution. Failure to promote construction and all its related parties as a career option in school ultimately lies on the shoulders of our federal government and state governments. With enough government support, the implementation of subjects that support careers in the sector can be included into the curriculum. This year, the Victorian and NSW Governments have proposed strategies to achieve greater representation of women in construction. This is an encouraging step in the right direction, but it will also rely on the private sector’s participation to see the strategies followed through.
There is also an onus on women in leadership positions to mentor and lead by example, showcasing the strong career pathways in the industry for women. Not only can female role models assist in attracting women and other minorities, but they can ensure workplaces are inclusive and adaptive through implementing change. Before trying to recruit women into the industry, we must first ensure they are stepping into companies where women feel safe and can thrive. Ultimately, by creating diverse work environments that are supportive, we will see a significant shift in staff retention.
Whilst it is important to increase the number of women in the construction sector, we must ensure the acquisition pool includes all genders, ages and backgrounds. The borders being closed throughout the pandemic meant skilled expats that are typically relied upon by the industry couldn’t enter the country. In quantity surveying, expats from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Canada are highly sought after and make up a significant percentage of new talent that apply for jobs in Australia. Now borders have reopened, we must focus on recruiting and re-engaging skilled migrants – a strategy which will heavily lean on federal and state administrations.
In the case of our own firm, WT has seen a jump in the number of females in the last seven years, growing from 20 per cent female to 36 per cent. In addition, promotion levels are consistently on par with their male counterparts.
Although the sector is a long way from reaching equal numbers of men and women, there have been some constructive steps forward from many companies who are now benefiting from a more gender equal workplace.
If we are to continue heading in the right direction, collaboration between government, the education sector and the construction industry is essential to build and strengthen gender equality and diversity within the sector.
By Linda Lodge, State Director, WT Partnership
Linda Lodge is State Director at WT Partnership with experience delivering construction projects across Australia, UK and Ireland. Linda’s project experience includes delivering construction projects of up to $600 million, ranging from feasibility stage to project completion across various sectors including Retail, Health, Commercial, Residential, Education, Hotel and Leisure. Linda is passionate about bolstering women in construction and is an active member of National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
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