Construction companies worldwide are being urged to support a charter launched today by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) committing them to take five beginners’ steps toward making their workforces more diverse, or risk losing competitive advantage in an industry beset with historic skills shortages on multiple continents.
It argues that in countries where the construction workforce is predominantly white, male and ageing, a failure to begin recruiting from the population at large, including among women and ethnic minorities, leaves companies vulnerable to capacity choke points, project delays, defects and ballooning staff costs.
As the chief executive of UK contractor Willmott Dixon, Rick Willmott, has remarked, when it comes to gender the industry has been “fishing in 50% of the gene pool for too long”.
Willmott Dixon sponsored the charter and accompanying special report, as did Scape Group, one of the UK’s leading public sector procurement authorities.
The five charter actions are supported by industry success stories from around the world to show how diversity can be achieved.
• Click here to read the charter and report, and to get materials announcing your support.
Feeling the pain
The campaign comes as construction companies in many developed countries feel the pain of skills shortages.
In the US, the Home Builders Institute reported this month that the industry needs to recruit 2.2 million extra people in the next three years to meet rising demand, a figure its chief executive Ed Brady called “staggering”.
In Germany, nearly 34% of building construction firms and nearly 38% of civil engineering firms reported problems finding skilled staff in September this year, figures that have risen steeply since the start of 2021.
Australia’s Housing Industry Association said skills availability had deteriorated further in the third quarter of this year, and that the industry is experiencing “the most significant skills shortage” since tracking began in 2003.
UK, Canada and numerous European states with similar industry demographics report identical challenges.
Lead from the top
The charter puts the onus on company bosses to show committed leadership on the issue, and outlines basic steps companies can take to start moving in the right direction.
These steps include collecting data on the state of a company’s diversity now; making a plan to improve; preparing the culture of the workforce; measuring and reporting on progress regularly; and holding a named, board-level executive accountable for reaching the targets.
“Successful companies are those that provide a diverse and inclusive environment where people feel challenged, contented and included within complementary teams,” Rick Willmott said, adding that construction should be “a place where people can genuinely enjoy a career of a lifetime”.
The CIOB stressed that change could not happen overnight and that beginning to move in the right direction was the charter’s “load-bearing idea”.
“Organisations that now display enviable records on diversity and inclusion started from different points,” it said. “It is a journey that organisations across the sector must start now, and will involve changing cultures and processes over time”.
“Practical and useful”
Noting in the report’s foreword that the charter “doesn’t point a finger but encourages”, CIOB chief executive Caroline Gumble wrote: “We won’t let this special report and Charter sit on a shelf gathering dust. This has been developed to be practical and useful, with behaviours that we can all work towards to make our industry more inclusive.”
“We as an industry have the potential to drive positive change and we can do this by ensuring that we promote equality and support initiatives which break down barriers, reduce the impact of bias and actively support all those who aspire to a fulfilling and progressive career in our industry,” Gumble said today.