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Wednesday, August 12, 2020
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has called for a redoubling of efforts to improve the diversity in engineering workforces to help deliver the UK’s economic recovery.
Engineering employers were already reporting a serious shortfall in recruits before the Covid-19 crisis, and the Association says the sector must now urgently broaden its appeal. The failure to recruit enough people from different age groups, genders, racial backgrounds and religions as well as those with different disabilities could undermine the sector’s efforts to rebuild and recover, it says.
Therefore, the new BESA Academy, which is launching this month, will champion diversity and seek to make training materials more easily available to a broader range of potential engineering recruits, the Association has announced.
The Academy will provide a wide range of targeted online courses to help widen the range of skills available to employers in the building engineering sector. The flexibility of its online teaching model is designed to make training materials more easily accessible and, therefore, more appealing to people from all backgrounds.
At last year’s general election, BESA lobbied the major political parties with its own manifesto of policy proposals to create a better-built environment and construction industry. One of the proposals called for the government to develop a comprehensive strategy and action plan to encourage young people, women, career changers and people from BAME backgrounds to take up careers in industries like construction and engineering in order to address the sector’s chronic skilled labour shortages.
“Joining the building engineering services sector should be a no-brainer because there are so many opportunities for rewarding careers, and yet ours is one of the least diverse in Europe and does not reflect the society it serves,” said BESA’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet.
“Out of every 100 people on construction sites, just one is female. In addition, just 12% of British engineers are women compared to 18% in Spain, 20% in Italy and 26% in Sweden,” she said. “And yet 65% of engineering employers say a shortage of female engineers is a threat to their business and companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse.”
Around 50% of people working in building services related jobs are expected to retire before the end of this decade and BESA believes it will be impossible to replace them through the current stream of apprentices and entry-level recruits.
Just 5% of workers in construction-related fields are registered disabled and the BAME population accounts for less than 10% of workers across construction, according to BESA. The Association also believes the so-called ‘macho culture’ of the industry can make it hard for members of the LGBTQ community to feel welcome and people from different religious backgrounds often feel alienated and excluded.
Alongside the launch of the Academy, BESA has created a range of animated figures to encourage greater inclusivity in the sector.
The ‘BESA Bods’ will be part of a marketing campaign and feature a non-binary person, wheelchair-bound bods, older individuals and a male Sikh. The LGBTQ community is represented by the use of rainbow hair.
“We are committed to making our industry more inclusive and better representative of the society it serves,” said BESA President Neil Brackenridge. “It is crucial that we shift the ‘male, stale and pale’ image so that we can recruit the multi-background, multi-talented workforce our companies need to play our part of the country’s economic recovery.
“The building engineering workforce of the 2020s and beyond will have to be very different to what it has been in the past and any strategy aimed at plugging the skills gap will fail if it ignores huge swathes of the population.”
BESA vice president Claire Curran also pointed out that more diverse companies were more successful and, ultimately, more profitable.
“They react more quickly and creatively to big changes in their markets because they benefit from a wider range of perspectives, which helps them spot gaps in demand that can lead to new business,” said Ms Curran.
“Companies perform better if they represent the world around them because that gives them a better understanding of their customers. Innovation is also not just about technology – it is really all about change, which is led by people.”
Younger workers also have different expectations and priorities to previous generations, including a clear idea of what constitutes of healthy work/life balance, according to Ms Curran.
“Employers will have to consider how they appeal to the 18 to 34 group, in particular, and with the new working from home culture how much flexibility they are able to build into their working conditions,” she said. “The way engineering has changed in recent years means it is now possible to carry out many more functions remotely – and the same is true of training, which augurs well for the new BESA Academy.”
BESA is also supporting the social media campaign #NoWrongPath, which aims to provide inspiration and reassurance to young people in Scotland who have just received their exam results and may have been disappointed with their results.
#NoWrongPath explains the options that are available to them and demonstrates that exams results are not necessarily the only way to access rewarding and meaningful careers.
This year the Scottish Qualifications Authority lowered 125,000 grades because the bulk of results were based on teachers’ estimates following the cancellation of exams due to the Covid-19 crisis. This may have left thousands of students with lower grades than expected and prompted many to look for a non-college based route into work.
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