Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Wanted: More women on building sites

The wolf whistle might be disappearing but it's still a man's world on the building site.

Amid a critical shortage of building and construction apprentices it's hard to find a woman on the tools.

Only 3 per cent of building and construction industry apprentices - 260 across the country - and fewer than 1 per cent of the 24,8000 licensed building practitioners are women.

Jenny Parker, who chairs the Auckland branch of the National Association of Women in Construction, works to fill industry jobs at Building Recruitment.

She said the default setting for industry bosses is to look for a male candidate, but she'd like people to be more open-minded about female apprentices, particularly in tougher jobs like scaffolding and roofing.

"It is very tricky because we have to prove ourselves twice as much as any man in this industry and you have to be able to be thick-skinned.

"You can't be precious onsite - there's no tears - so you have to really be a little bit more mature in your attitude and expect the unexpected."

Sexism onsite is on the wane, said Parker.

"It is changing because men are being educated to behave on building sites.

"It is starting from the younger generation, not the older generation. The older generation still have that old mindset that construction is a man's job and girls aren't really encouraged because 'they can't do it'," she said.

The Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) said although it didn't have a strategic goal about gender specifically, it encouraged diversity.

There had been a 20 per cent lift in the number of women working as apprentices in 2014 and 2015, but if the industry wanted to address the projected skills shortage that will require 3000 additional apprentices, it needed to continue to be inclusive, said BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana.

"Our traditional workforce pools are shrinking and if you're running out of people you've got to be diverse and look for them somewhere else.

"We're working in partnership with employers to figure out how we can do better with female participation in industry."

Qualified carpenter Kate Ross, 28, said that aside from a couple of "old school blokes" she's never had a problem being a woman onsite.

"It's probably different in commercial environments. I've only worked in residential renovations and smaller scale jobs.

"The thing that people have got to remember is a lot of the time the client is a woman."

Ross, who won the Auckland Apprentice of the Year competition in 2013 and became the first woman to reach the national finals, said at school building wasn't talked about as a job option for girls except in the context of architecture or design.

Parker said trades are often viewed as low-calibre career options, which doesn't reflect the skill needed or the potential for women to run their own business.

"And also to be able to garner a wage that's real, that's relevant and that's equal to men's as well."

With a degree in construction management also under her toolbelt, Ms Ross would one day like to be her own boss, but in the meantime is quietly taking on more responsibility at renovation specialists CG Low Building as boss Charles Low steps back.

She said getting that first foot on the industry ladder is difficult for anyone, not just women, but perseverance pays off.

Employers surveyed by the Ministry of Women's Affairs think having women in their teams is a no-brainer. They say women:
• Have strong communication skills that can be vital on a busy jobsite
• Are great at multi-tasking
• Attend to details
• Are well-organised, which gets the job done
• Bring a different set of abilities and perspectives.
Source: Ministry of Women's Affairs

- NZ Herald

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