New South Wales has embarked on an ambitious program to triple the number of women in trade based and other non-traditional construction roles by the end of the decade.

In its 2022/23 budget to be released on Tuesday, the government said it would allocate $20 million to programs aimed at increasing the number of women who work in construction.

Specially, it has set a target of increasing the number of women in non-traditional and trade-based construction roles from around four percent now to 15 percent by 2030.

NSW Treasurer Matt Keen said the importance of attracting more women into construction should not be underestimated.

“The latest estimates show that skills shortages in the Australian construction industry could top 105,000 workers by 2023,” Kean said.

“Increasing the number of women in the construction industry is essential to lower the gender pay gap and ensure we have the skilled workforce required to deliver the Government’s record $110.4 billion infrastructure pipeline.”

The latest announcement comes as Australis’s construction industry continues to struggle to attract and retain women in its workforce.

As of February 2022, detailed labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that overall, the construction industry employs approximately 151,300 workers throughout Australia.

This equates to roughly 13.8 percent of the nation’s construction workforce – a figure which has barely improved from the 11.8 percent recorded when the ABS data series for this information began in 1984.

In New South Wales specifically, women accounted for 14.8 percent of the overall construction workforce as of February (53,800 female workers out of a total construction workforce of 362,500).

That overall data, however, obscures the true extent of the gender disparity in some parts of the industry as it includes occupations and roles such as clerical work and traffic control for which female participation is relatively high.

Strip out occupations such as these and data from the NSW Government Industry Skills Legacy Program indicates that the percentage of women employed in non-traditional roles is as low as four percent.

It is this figure which the government is aiming to increase to 15 percent by 2030, a spokesperson for Infrastructure NSW has confirmed.

To help deliver on its goal, the government has allocated $20 million in the budget.

The funding will go toward programs which help to break down cultural barriers which prevent women from considering a career in construction and help them to smash through the ‘gyprock ceiling’.

To allocate the funding, Infrastructure NSW will engage with stakeholders and build on work already done by industry associations and trade unions.

Funding will be used to sponsor innovative industry-led initiatives and increase existing participation targets, skills and training initiatives.

The funding comes amid ongoing recognition of the need to attract more women into construction in both New South Wales specifically and throughout Australia more generally as part of an industry need to attract, develop and retain a sufficient number of skilled workers to deliver upon a record pipeline of detached housing and public infrastructure work.

Minister for Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Natalie Ward said the government’s efforts will help to shift the culture in construction and lead by example on its own worksites.

“We have to ensure women on construction sites have access to adequate, clean amenities, necessary personal protective equipment, that worksites are free of offensive materials and there are opportunities for more flexibility in working hours,” Ward said.

“Women employed in male-dominated environments are at greater risk of sexual and gender harassment compared with the national average, but this plan can help improve the experience of women in construction.”

Construction industry lobby groups have welcomed the announcement.

“Even though the industry has made great progress in recent years, there still aren’t enough women working in property and construction and only 28 percent of leadership roles are held by women,” Property Council of Australia NSW Executive Director Luke Achterstraat said.

“Today’s announcement will ensure that more women choose a career in property, choose to stay and are given more opportunities to excel because there is a myriad of benefits both for them and the industry.”

Achterstraat said the property industry was in the game of building better places, and good places benefit from a diversity of design and thought.

“When building design and construction has the input of a diverse range of people, we see better buildings, better communities and better towns and cities. This is important as our population and regions grow larger and more diverse,” he said.

“Diversity of thought also propels creativity and innovation within an organisation. Global management consulting firm McKinsey found top companies that embrace gender diversity are 21 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies who don’t.

“We hope this announcement empowers more women to consider the property industry as a career choice, to boost diversity, creativity and innovation for the future.”