Construction capitalises on under-tapped resource to rescue skills shortage

Dione David8 August 2022
Workers talking in high vis vests on a construction site

As the construction industry faces a critical skills shortage, employers are taking a closer look at under-represented demographics. Photo: File.

Lucy Marburg slipped into the construction industry as an administration officer. She didn’t consider herself as working “in construction”, nor was it ever intended.

“I always saw it as a male-dominated area,” she says.

“But I quickly developed an interest in the construction side of the company. I was drawn to it by its fast-paced, challenging but rewarding nature.

“My only misgiving was that since the industry was so male-dominated, I would struggle to progress far.”

About 18 months ago Lucy expressed an interest in a lateral move, and happily discovered her concerns were “very wrong” as she progressed quickly up the ladder.

Given the current state of the construction industry, her story shouldn’t come as a great surprise.

READ ALSO: Geocon reaches new heights and is now one of the ACT’s largest private sector employers

Between supply chain issues, material shortages, increased demand and, perhaps gravest of all, skills shortages, the construction industry is facing an existential crisis.

Any effective long-game approach must include a shot to the arm of domestic training and education, according to CIT head of Department, Building and Construction Management Tony Cowlishaw.

He says this should include finding ways to tap into under-represented demographics – including women. To that end, CIT has partnered with Geocon to launch the Women in Building and Construction Scholarship.

Open to female students 17 years or above, the scholarship will sponsor a new female student to enrol full- or part-time in a Certificate IV in Building and Construction or the Diploma of Building and Construction.

“I believe we have an obligation as an organisation to encourage and provide a pathway for women who might not otherwise have thought of construction as a legitimate career option for themselves,” Tony says.

“With Geocon covering their fees, it might be that tipping point.”

Two women in high vis vests walking through a construction site

Training on Australian shores could be a crucial part of an answer to the skilled labour shortage plaguing the construction industry. Photo: File.

Aside from increasing the talent pool, Tony says women “add a perspective to the industry that’s beneficial to all concerned”.

“They come in with different experiences and approaches and I think everyone can see the advantage of that,” he says.

While there are still clear deficiencies in the industry, Tony says he has noticed a pleasing trend in the uptake of construction roles among women.

“Over the past seven years the number of females undertaking our construction management courses has risen from about 1.5 per cent of the cohort to up to 22 per cent,” he says.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s definitely happening.”

READ ALSO: Geocon unveils plans for blue-chip mixed-use project on Allara Street

While Tony is hearing mounting reports of a “struggle getting qualified and quality employees” in the field, he believes this classroom trend is translating on work sites.

“A couple of weeks ago I was at Aspen – the Geocon site in Tuggeranong – and walking through on that Saturday morning I’d say 30 to 40 per cent of the tradespeople on site were women,” he says.

“Almost all our students looking for employment in the industry are getting a range of options upon graduation – cadetships, traineeship and other roles with a number of companies both residential and commercial.”

Woman wearing a hard hat and high vis vest on the phone at a construction site

Women add a valuable perspective to the construction industry. Photo: File.

Tony says women have the potential to “change the dynamics” of the construction industry for the better – on site and in the classroom.

“Women in the industry don’t want to be considered tokens,” he says.

“They want to be a constructive part of the team, equal to all other members and providing an equal contribution to the output of that team.”

It’s certainly the case for Lucy, now a senior contracts administrator for Geocon. Contrary to her initial concerns, she finds the industry “fun, inclusive and friendly”.

“I have been supported and given opportunities I never thought I would get as a 21-year-old female,” she says.

“I absolutely love my job. As someone who is fairly new to the industry, I find the actual work mentally challenging but more rewarding than any other role I have previously done.

“There is so much opportunity out there. If you find an area you enjoy, there is always room for growth and the resources are out there to support you in your progression.”

Applications for the CIT Geocon Women in Building and Construction Scholarship close 31 August. Visit CIT scholarships to apply.

Original Article published by Dione David on Riotact.


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