24 RCI 0514

RCI May 2014

WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION The number of women in construction – or lack of them – is one of the recurrent themes that seems to surface every once in a while; like the current hot topics of skills shortages or payment issues it is an important issue that never really seems to be truly addressed. But unlike skills shortages and payment issues, it is a problem which hasn’t been brought on by the recession, and doesn’t necessarily have any direct negative impact on businesses. It does, however, bring to the surface stereotypes of construction being a man’s world, women not being strong enough to work on sites and all those other gender stereotypes which we would hope by 2014 have been long overcome. But have they and will they ever truly be? Name change In the February issue of RCI we talked exclusively to Karen Kirby, business development and policy director for roofing and cladding company Indbuild, and she spoke of the difficulties she encountered when first setting up her company, largely due to the market’s inability to take her seriously as a woman. Karen explained to RCI: “Nobody would answer my 024 MAY 2014 RCIMAG.COM Breaking barriers With the news that women make up just 11% of staff in the construction industry and just 1% on site, RCI takes a look at possible reasons for this and talks to Tracy Bray of Redland about her path into roofing calls if I said Karen Kirby, and if I sent a letter or email it would just be disregarded. So in the end I changed my name to Harry, and as soon as I started calling myself Harry Kirby, certain people started answering me!” Extreme, some might say, but as reported in RCI last month, a recent think tank report from the Smith Institute stated women make up just 11% of staff in the construction industry, and just 1% on site; but the news is even worse for the roofing sector according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which state that the number of women working as roofers was found to be so low as to be “unmeasurable”. So what can be done to overcome the barriers that exist to women making a career for themselves in construction? The Smith Institute report makes a number of recommendations, including the Government providing specific funding and programmes to support women in taking up non-traditional trades, better careers advice and less gender stereotyping in schools. This second point is echoed by Tracy Bray, now with Redland Roofing as a product trainer and assessor, who spoke to RCI to provide the perspective of a woman working in the construction and roofing sector. Left: Tracy Bray, Redland product trainer and assessor, left a job as a hairdresser to persue a career in roofing and construction. “There’s a big difference to the way things are done now which will probably make it even easier for women on site” Salon to sites After leaving school and finding herself unfulfilled in her job as a hairdresser, lengthy talks and compatibility tests at the local careers office pointed Tracy in the direction of roofing. Tracy remembers roofing sounding “exciting” and like “every day would be different”; she was looking forward to doing something “practical and being outdoors.” After an interview and aptitude test with CITB, Tracy applied to 26 building and roofing companies, received four responses, one of which was for an interview with Bitterne Building Contractors in Southampton as a trainee roofer which she clearly shone in as she got the job. Tracy explained: “It was a bit daunting really to start with, going from a mainly female trade to an all male trade, but I was lucky enough to work for a small building firm and they were all friendly and helpful.” CITB then arranged for Tracy to go to college on a block release at the Training Centre in Birmingham, which Tracy described as difficult at first, as “being a woman, I had a frosty reception from some of my fellow students.” This eased with time and Tracy looked forward to the weeks she would spend there, leaving with an NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Roof Slating & Tiling. For the first four years of her career, Tracy learned more than just roofing, gaining a broad range of skills from digging foundations and building a house from the first shovel to the last ridge tile, and working long days with the team at Bitterne Building Contractors. Having soaked up the knowledge during her time at Bitterne Building Contractors, Tracy was confident enough to go self employed and do her own work for other employers. By this point she had also gained a City & Guilds in Lead Work. After ten years on site, Tracy’s career path has seen her This pic & overleaf: Tracy Bray of Redland passing on her knowledge. Tracy is now a product trainer and an assessor end up at Redland, using her skills as a Product


RCI May 2014
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