Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Why does construction matter? Why an industry specific approach to diversity could mean all the difference.

Ever since first starting on site I have been aware of the industry specific debate. The idea that unless we cater management tools, good practice and policy for industry it simply doesn’t work to its full potential; I must admit I am very much on the side of the industry specific and for some good reasons too.

Firstly history is always a good place to start, the most radical positive change I have encountered in industry is that of attitudes to health and safety which guided by the HSE was driven and influenced by industry and has been a massive success. Whilst we should not rest on our laurels (and it should be acknowledge that the stats are showing an increase in accidents on site) where we are now compared to my first day on site as a thirteen year old with a hard hat, a welding iron and no induction is a snap shot of how far we have come. Knowing that that site was the jubilee line extension and I was free to wander around as I pleased makes the distance travelled seem all that much further.
In contrast the Egan report which did not consult with industry but set out some clear goals for the sector to achieve has by Egans own admission been somewhat of a disappointment “we could have has a revolution, what we achieved was a bit of improvement. I give the industry 4 out of 10” Never waste a good crisis.

When it comes to equality I strongly believe we must not just be sector specific, in fact I feel that being that general will not work at all – here’s why.

Not only is the sector very large at 10% of GDP and covered by three sector skills councils its also very very complicated. For many reasons such as the majority of firms in industry being made up of less than 10 people, the stark differences in culture between the firms, changing procurement practice, trade/professional firm make up etc etc. In short to ask a brickwork SME to achieve diversity is a different ball game from asking a consultant or main contractor; let alone client or housing association.
By expecting all organisations in the sector let alone the UK wide industry to work to the same parameters would in my view either overstretch or under effect.

Secondly whilst there are firms that can afford to employ Equality and Diversity specialists the majority cant and to think about how that might work we only need to ask if you would ask an apprentice to carry out a major groundwork’s method statement. Whilst some will do a good job most won’t have the time knowledge or confidence and might come up with something that is potentially harmful. From quotas that result in people with roles but not responsibility leaving them frustrated and isolated, unrealistic targets passed down the supply chain to the evermore pressed sub contractor, to misunderstandings about life on site and presumptions around the affect it has on minority groups leading to well meaning but ultimately pointless short term initiatives.

Finally, (please note this is not the final point in this argument but I only have so much time to write blogs so the final one for today) as an industry we are amazing, we don’t tend to tell people that often enough but it is true. The danger is if we don’t attract good candidates through our doors and keep them there we will struggle to continue to achieve the things we do on a daily bases. This means we need to look a little further that traditional views of equality and diversity. To make a change happen we need to understand that in our industry 86% of managers consider themselves over stressed, we average 70 hours per week, work in the most dangerous conditions for a major industry, and buying work is common place leading to poor payment practices.

To make change to our diversity we need to make a change to these factors, we are currently failing to draw in key talent from our usual demographic unless we can present a solid case why the industry should appeal to the majority what chance do we have with the under-represented?

Alongside construction skills we have developed the Built Environment Accredited Framework for Fairness Inclusion and Respect. The framework has been designed considering all of the issues above and many more to work towards making a real positive change to the sector.

Please note that whilst I have held the above views for many years I have never seen it so well presented (if not equality specific) as in Stuart Greens Making sense of constructionimprovement so I would advise you to go take a look, and if you have an opposing view please do post it in the comment section, I warmly welcome a good debate.