Like many youngsters, at school I didn’t have a clear idea what I wanted to do next. It became a straight toss-up between studying English or architecture.
When I was accepted into the Mackintosh School of Architecture, I was so delighted with going to Glasgow School of Art that I took that path. Around halfway through my degree, I realised this wasn’t the career for me – unfortunately my fascination with buildings did not translate into a talent for designing them! However, I completed my studies and went on to work as an architectural assistant while reconsidering my options.
After completing a postgraduate course in broadcast journalism, I soon found that competition for jobs was ferocious. I was very lucky that a communications job came up a few months later at the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and because of my background, they took a chance on me. This was the first step into a career where I have been fortunate enough to combine a love of writing with a passion for buildings.
In the 15 years since, my jobs have included assistant editor of an architecture magazine and a marketing role at a large architectural firm. Three years ago I joined a communications consultancy, Perceptive Communicators, which specialises in just a few sectors. I now handle all aspects of communication for numerous construction clients, so having a background in the industry has been an obvious advantage.
The moral is that there are so many varied roles in the construction industry – and they don’t all involve getting your hands dirty. As well as joiners and bricklayers, the sector needs marketing experts, HR professionals, accountants, lawyers, 3D visualisers – there’s a career to suit everyone. The industry needs to get that message out to young people – especially girls.
There is a skills shortage in construction, and also a huge gender imbalance. Perhaps if we could address the latter, we could help remedy the former. The difficulty lies in how. Even areas of the sector such as architecture, which are managing to attract women in the first place, are losing them along the way. We need to figure out why so many talented people are taking their skills and training into other industries.
When I hear some experiences of women in construction, I know I’ve been lucky. I have very fond and positive memories of my time in an architectural practice. However, this was before I had my children. There does seem to be a long-hours culture in architecture, which does not lend itself well to parenthood, and might go some way to explaining why so many women drop out of the profession.
That brings me on to what is a society-wide problem – men need to take on their fair share of childcare duties. They should accept family friendly measures in the workplace, and should be encouraged to do so by their employers. Until there is as much chance of a dad leaving the office to pick up the kids as there is a mum, then the gender imbalance in senior positions will unfortunately continue – and not just in construction.
Some of our clients are making great strides in encouraging a better gender balance, such as offering shared parental leave, flexible hours and skills academies. One client, Construction Scotland – the industry leadership organisation – is running a programme called Inspiring Construction, which aims to inform not just young people but their parents, teachers and career advisers about the huge and diverse range of roles on offer.
My own thoughts on how construction businesses can encourage more talent to join them? Challenge perceptions. Showcase every career you have to offer – not just the traditional trades. Embrace family friendly working. Discourage the long-hours, survival-of-the-fittest culture. And tell Dads on your team it’s ok to do that school run.