Christina Riley, Founder of LGBT Construct, discusses the impact of Brexit on UK construction, the importance of a dynamic skilled workforce, and why we must change the culture of the industry through collaboration on the diversity agenda.
Last week the government triggered Article 50 and Brexit became a reality, but what will be the lasting impact on the UK construction and infrastructure sectors? Recent studies suggest that with the aging demographic of the nation, the skills shortage will increase, and Brexit can only add to the problem of insufficient numbers of available construction managers, consultants, designers, and operatives.
However, the industry is waking up to a new dawn and the reality of not only having to adapt and change in order to attract more qualified people into the sector, but also to develop and retain those people. Large scale projects like Crossrail, High Speed 2 & Thames Tideway are demanding main contractors address the skills shortage.
Having a dynamic skilled workforce for the future means the industry has had to address the diversity and inclusion agenda. Only around 11% of the workforce are women, and only around 3% of women are out on site. Yet the working population is 51% women. Companies like Balfour Beatty are addressing this issue with back to work schemes, as well as supporting staff with Affinity Networks like their “Women in Business” Affinity Group. This initiative is bringing more women into the industry, and changing the image of construction for apprentices and graduates who are beginning to see it as a more inclusive sector.
As a transgender woman who has worked in the industry for over 24 years, this is a welcome change. The “LGBT & Allies” Network at Balfour Beatty has given me the opportunity to be my authentic self while keeping my job as a site based planner, as well as opening new doors of opportunity.
The feedback from clients, colleagues, contractors and the supply chain has been largely positive to the work in this area and this has been demonstrated through the Diversity Toolbox talks which are held on site to both professional teams and site staff.
By changing the culture of the industry through collaboration on the diversity agenda, the skills shortage can be addressed. The CIOB, RICS and RAEng have all recently tackled the diversity agenda through talks and focus groups. Main Contractors are forming alliances with each other through networks like Off Site; #BuildingEquality and InterEngineering.
Only through a shift in culture will the industries skills shortage be addressed, recruiting from a wider talent pool. With more women employed and by embracing people of all backgrounds including those from multi-cultural heritage, nationality, disability, gender, sexual orientation, single parents or ex military experience.
The industry must stand up to Theresa May to ensure that Brexit doesn’t prevent people from these groups being recruited or retained from the widest possible pool of talent, including people from Europe.
Christina Riley was recently shortlisted in the British LGBT Awards Corporate Rising Star for her work in promoting grassroots LGBT diversity in construction as well as winning the CECA Inspiring Change Award in 2016. Christina is chair of the Balfour Beatty LGBT & Allies Network and founded the “LGBT Construct” network that reaches out to support grass roots LGBT people into construction, but also educates leadership to drive change and to be more inclusive.