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Thursday, 3 August 2017

We have moved!! Dont forget to visit!

Hi Guys,

Just to let you know we have moved!

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For other updates follow @girlonabuildingsite on Instagram and @jesstabibi on twitter

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Housing Series: Solving the housing crisis... but at what cost? Part 1

The UK housing shortage is a major problem, one that the government has continuously attempted to rectify with policy after policy, year on year. But are they causing more harm than good? In this UK Housing series I am exploring specific issues that seem to pass us by but have a great impact on the standards within our society.

A little while ago, an issue was brought to my attention by an architect I know regarding planning regulations for flats. If the existing building is commercial and being converted to residential, then under permitted development, it does not have to conform to the minimum requirements set out by the government planning authorities. 

The issue around this is that to some it is seen as a way to provide much needed housing to the UK, to others it is a way of providing developers with the opportunity to profit from selling larger numbers of properties in a space that had it been a conversion from an existing residential property or a new build, far fewer properties would have been allowed within the area. Either way, the consumer is the one who loses out. 

An article in The Independent spoke of the unjust nature of this where properties in the London Borough of Barnet were being converted from an old council office building into residential flats of approximately 16m2 in size - the equivalent to a Travelodge hotel room. To put this into perspective further, to meet regular planning conditions, the minimum size for a studio with a shower and no bath is currently 37m2. 

Not only does this minimum standard not apply to commercial properties but it does not apply to the section 106 requirement for affordable housing either. At a time where not only do we not have enough housing in the UK, but we do not have enough affordable housing, scrapping this requirement is understandable as it likely comes as a relief to the developer and adds incentive to take on these projects. However, should this really be a consideration or should we be considering the needs of the end user?

Whilst there are constraints that will trigger the need for planning permission, developers will be sure to avoid these in order to get around any red tape and maximise their profits. There needs to be a balance between providing more, suitable housing and ensuring that living standards are maintained in a safe way. 

Both the Construction Industry as the professionals and experts and the government have a duty to ensure that homes are safe, comfortable and appropriate for those living in them. The government should be ensuring that there are safeguards in place so this is achieved and allowing properties of 16m2 for an entire home to me suggests they are currently failing. There is a major shortage of housing in the UK but instead of cutting corners and providing ill thought out solutions, we need a considered, realistic and achievable plan that is less to do with politics and more to do with solving the needs of the UK population.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Women in Trades event with Women on the Tools and NICEIC

Last Thursday I attended a panel debate with Women on the Tools and NICEIC. It was a debate to discuss how to encourage more women into the manual trades within the Construction industry. On the panel were Emma Clancy - CEO on NICEIC, Andrea Kelmanson - CEO of Women on the Tools, Simon  Bartley - President of WorldSkills and Baroness Sue Garden - House of Lords. It was a rare opportunity to get together with a large number of those women working in the electrical trades and discuss with them their views on the industry and its future.

It was good to see that alongside the obvious need to keep working at making manual trades accessible to females who want to begin a career in construction, that there are open, honest discussions with input from the right people - tradeswomen, trade bodies, organisations and those working towards making at change in the industry for the better.

There were a number of the key points I took from it. Firstly, the age at which it becomes difficult to become an apprentice. What must be appreciated is that where construction opportunities are more available, after a certain age it becomes more difficult. We heard from one electrician who had funded herself through her studies, and then sourced work for another electrician who would then teach her - she effectively worked for free. It needs to be easier for those over 30 to get apprenticeships that are funded if we are to see an increase in female tradeswomen.

Another key point was the importance of getting parents involved and on board at an early age. Apprenticeships are a commitment and involve a lot of work that students do not necessarily experience whilst at school. Having the support of parents is key for the success, not only to ensure younger students stay on track, but also simple things such as having food ready when they get home or to give words of encouragement. The support system for apprentices is key.

Lastly the value of apprenticeships. One participant shared a story of her experience at her child's school, where the headteacher listed all the options available to students - A-Levels, university and finally suggesting that apprenticeships were for the least academic pupils. This is absolutely not the case and from the discussions in the room we concluded that apprenticeships are for anyone regardless of perceived ability. The government is rolling out the apprenticeship levy from today and if people are to take up apprenticeships they have to be seen to have equal value as A-Levels and if continued, a degree. Without these, degrees will be promoted over apprenticeships despite not always being the best option for the student and their career.

Getting parents involved and having schools promoting apprenticeships positively and demonstrating that they are for everyone is key.

Trades are excellent, skilled jobs and are all too often seen as a route into another area of the construction industry. This shouldn't be the immediate thought, a career in a mechanical or electrical trade, or as a painter, carpenter or joiner could be for you. If you are interested in one of these follow @womenonthetools , @NICEIC @k10apprenticeships (if you live in London) or @helping16to21s or Bath/ Bristol area) on twitter or tweet me @jesstabibi

Friday, 10 March 2017

GUEST BLOG: Apprenticeships Bio: Marie Cook

To mark the end of National Apprenticeship week, I have a guest blog from Amanda Boulton of Brown and Caroll. This Bio is about Marie Cook, an apprentice at Brown and Caroll and is an excellent example of what women all over the UK are achieving!

Marie is used to being something of a novelty on whichever building site she is working on. As an apprentice site carpenter, not only is she older than most apprentices due to having previously had a career as a chef manager, she is also among the tiny 1% of onsite construction workers who are female.

This can initially lead to some logistical issues – such as a sixty floor round trip to get to the ladies toilet facilities. However with more girls starting to consider apprenticeships in traditionally ‘male’ trades such as plumbing and carpentry, supported by initiatives such as Women In Construction, employers are gradually starting to wake up to the fact that they need to factor in the ‘ladies’ when setting up building sites.

In her late thirties, Marie was looking for a career change and as someone who had always been practical and hands on when it came to fixing things, was considering plumbing. However, she discovered carpentry on a 13 week multi-skills course and decided that working with wood was the way forward. After securing a work placement with Brown & Carroll 18 months ago, Marie began her apprenticeship and having completed Level 1 is now gathering evidence for her Level 2 NVQ in Site Carpentry.

From Marie herself:

“It was daunting at first, coming onto an all-male building site, and I did have preconceptions of your stereotypical builder. However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how helpful and supportive everyone has been. Brown & Carroll have been great at giving me opportunities and helping me to grow, we’re already talking about NVQ Level 3. I’m enjoying learning new skills and want to carry on progressing. I’m willing to muck in and get on with it just like everyone else, so now I’m just seen as one of the team. Women bring different skills and thought processes to the job, which can be an advantage when problem solving and even having smaller hands has occasionally come in useful! I enjoy helping to inspire other young women and recently met a 20 year old who has taken up carpentry after hearing me speak at an event.”


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Closing the skills gap: Part 2 - Apprenticeships

This week is National Apprenticeship week and with that in mind, I thought I would do a part two of closing the skills gap.

The government is imposing an apprenticeship levy from April 2017 something that is likely to have an impact on how employers view the viability of apprenticeships. However, should this affect how many apprenticeships are available going forward and will this be off putting to employers previously offering or considering the idea of offering apprenticeships?

In short, ideally not. From April 2017, employers whose payroll exceeds £3m, will pay a levy of 0.5% of their payroll on anything over the £3m. So what is the reality? In the main, for those with a payroll under £3m nothing will change but for companies that exceed this figure, the reality is they may reduce the number of apprenticeships they offer. Seen as a "payroll tax" arguments against the levy are mainly to do with the fact that this will increase business costs. However, it can be seen as a positive as discussed by the Association of Colleges that it will help to reverse a 20 year decline in employer spending on training, will be more effective than voluntary initiatives in that period and will, as a result, secure benefits for individuals and employers. The levy is part of a larger set of reforms designed to narrow the 20% productivity gap between the UK and other advanced countries

Its an interesting idea and as I have mentioned before, the ever growing skills gap means training is needed more than ever before in the Construction industry. Perhaps being "forced" is the best way to really address a problem that most within construction are concerned about but few are making any real progress with. It needs to be a two pronged attack though. Whether there are a lot of apprenticeships available doesn't matter if people do not know that they are available. Promotion of careers and higher education options within schools is key. Schools and employers need to work together to inspire and engage with students to educate them on the opportunities available to them and the careers in construction that are available. Where construction is concerned this engagement needs to be equal for both male and female students as research shows that this is not currently the case.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to learn a new skill, begin a career and earn whilst doing so. Organisations such as K10 not only help people get apprenticeships but social responsibility is high on their agenda. Of apprentices on site 15% are women, 12% are ex-offenders, 73% are 18-24 years old, 10% have a disability and 84% were previously unemployed. With a combination of up-skilling people and filling the skills gap, by encouraging more people to take up an apprenticeship we will be able to take steps to fill the 182,000 construction jobs currently available.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Women in Construction Awards 2017

Last Wednesday 1st March was the 2017 Women in Construction awards in Manchester Deansgate Hilton. Now in its 11th year, it was a chance for the construction industry to celebrate the achievements of the women working within it with a number of categories representing the different professions and trades.

With awards covering QS of the year, Rising Star, Engineer of the year, tradeswoman of the year and many more, we were able to meet outstanding women working hard all over the country within the Construction industry. The guest speaker was Debra Searle MBE, an inspiring woman who rowed across the Atlantic solo.

After a delicious dinner, the awards began, NAWIC had finalists in 3 categories - Rebecca Hartshorn  and Tanja Smith in Outstanding Woman in Construction, with Tanja winning, Katie Shepherd winning Mentor of the year and I was a finalist for the Rising start over 25 award.

With a range of judges from all over the industry including Bridget Bartlett, deputy chief executive at CIOB,  Professor Chris Gorse, director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute, head of the Centre for the Built Environment and professor of construction and project management at Leeds Beckett University, Lucile Kamar, equalities manager, RICS, Jane Nelson, executive director, Mears,  Emma Richman, director of assets at Bury Six Town Housing, board member of Procure Plus and chair of the audit committee and Christine Townley, ambassador, Construction Youth Trust there was a wealth of knowledge and experience on the panel. Each judge presented a video praising the strengths of the winners, demonstrating why they had won.

The awards support Construction Youth Trust and raised over £2000 for this worthy cause.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Attracting girls to the Construction industry

Whilst conducting research for my dissertation, I was surprised to find such a lack of interest in the Construction Industry when surveying a range of female students. What was surprising was not that they did not know anything about the built environment, but that despite not knowing anything about it, they branded it boring. They also declared they did not like it and they were not "good" at it.

The question is, good at what exactly? When we are in a situation where the next generation of workers are not even slightly interested by the industry and the skills gap is ever increasing we need to find ways to break down what the industry can offer and why it could be great for these young women.

According to a recent report by The Construction Skills Network (CSN), the UK’s most comprehensive construction forecast, predicts growth of 1.7% over the next five years, with 179,000 jobs to be created – a better outlook than was predicted immediately after the EU referendum. What this means is we have a lot of jobs being created and no where near the number of skilled workers required. We need to do more to encourage the next generation to consider Construction as a career choice.

Perhaps next time you're in a situation where you can give some advice and you're told, I'm not good at construction, maybe you could ask one whether they are any "good" at any of these...

1. Good at maths? whilst maths lessons at school were often a bore, for some maths is easy and interesting. For them consider engineering.

2. Good at being creative? If this is more up your street then how about architecture, interior design or again engineering. Or perhaps a trade, painting or carpentry/joinery?

3. Good with people? If you are a people person, how about Construction management, Project management or Business Development?

4. Good with details? If you have an eye for detail then Quantity Surveying or planning could be the choice for you.

5. Good with your hands? If you don't like the idea of being stuck behind a desk all day then consider a trade. Electrician, plumber, carpenter and many more trades are available. A way in to this is through an apprenticeship, something that the government is pushing and increasing the number of this year.

These are just a few career options after thinking about what you might be "good" at. There are so many different roles within the industry that require a range of different skills, so suggesting you are not good at construction is crazy. It is an industry worth exploring with a number of routes in. It may be that you know someone who is struggling to choose a career, who may need some guidance. Chances are she hasn't considered construction, so why not give her a nudge!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Maternity Trap

It's 2017, men have been given paternity leave and the option to share parental leave but in reality is it ok for them to do it? And by ok, I don't mean legally. Whether implicitly said or not, company culture can pressure employees into making decisions that given a truly free choice, they wouldn't make.

And why is this important? It is important because the culture we create in the workplace for men around parental leave is vital for the culture created around parental leave for women. Something that in its current form, needs to change. Currently in construction, when a women tells her employer she is pregnant, she often gets the support she is looking for, regular meetings to see if she's ok and managing her workload, preparations are made to handover her work to whoever is covering her whilst on leave and then she goes off for her chosen time of parental leave. All of this is great!

The issue comes when she wants to come back. All too often, the construction industry talks the talk but that's where it stops. There seems to be a problem of "knowing what to do with women" when they return from maternity leave and this usually results in them receiving a demotion, too little to do on a day to day basis or they are ignored until they leave their job of their own accord.

The reality is that until we change the culture and encourage men to take leave to care for their children there will be an issue around women returners. The construction environment is such that there are clearly certain roles that can not be done on a part time basis. Something that often means sidelining of women who choose to come back part time. The nature of projects means that female project managers, construction managers, development managers etc struggle to do their job part time because they need to be available full time in order to make decisions and drive projects forward. It is not practical for these roles to be done on a part time basis as meetings, decision making and being on site to oversee project process cant be scheduled around the part time employee. This the nature of the role, rather than anything to do with gender but what isn't just the job is that other roles can be done on a part time basis, such as engineer, QS, trades and yet women are still demoted, given less responsibility and not really given the opportunity to do what they were previously considered capable of.

When only women are able to give birth, the Construction industry needs to assist in making the choice to have children easier to do alongside having a career. At a time where few people have the choice as to whether they return to work employers need to allow women to step back into their roles and take on what they did previously if that is what they want. To sideline a women returning from maternity leave does nothing other than undermine her confidence and ability and deprives companies of talent. In 2017, we should be giving women the support they deserve, the support that the men have had all along.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Construction Gender Pay Gap

So, now that its 2017 are you thinking new year, new you? Planning out all the things you'd like to achieve over the next 12 months? Good for you! It may be a new job, it may be that promotion you've been working towards, it may even be a new qualification but regardless of this, have you thought about pay?

Late last year, there were reports that the UK construction industry had the lowest gender pay gap on record at 16.3% which according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) was down 1.8%.  Whilst some were out there celebrating "hooray for us, we are the lowest", I was thinking that 16.3% is still a pretty large gap. More and more articles have popped up over the last couple of months suggesting a gender pay gap as large as 23.3% and whilst this is based on a tool from the government and the ONS it is still useful to see.

Looking at the data it is easy to see we have a major problem here. How are we supposed to attract women to the industry when the 1% of women working in trades are being paid 15% less than the men? It is a hard enough environment for women to enter and work in without the added information - which is freely available online - that they are also being paid less to do the same job. With technology what it is, strength plays a minimal part in trades and can no longer be used as an excuse.

Looking to the professional roles its a much less gloomy picture. Civil Engineers earn 2.8% more than male counterparts whilst project managers earn 3.2% less with female Chartered Surveyors earning 0.9%. The big gaps are evident in architecture where female architects earn 9% less then male architects which further compounds the data that architecture is primarily made up of older, white males from privileged backgrounds - an old boys club of sorts that looks after its own.

The skills gap, the gender imbalance and the pay gap in the construction industry are all inter-linked and as a result, more needs to be done to address all three issues if we are ever to eliminate even one of them. To address the skills gap, we should look to attract women to the industry (as part of the solution), to attract women, we need to ensure that they are not on the back foot from the get go, feeling under valued knowing they earn less for the same role. Once something is done to address this, perhaps more women would join the industry reducing the imbalance even slightly.

To me, it seems obvious that a gender pay gap is lose lose for everyone. For the women doing the jobs, they feel resentment knowing that the guy sitting next to them doing exactly the same job is most likely getting paid around 20% more than them. What is the incentive to work as hard? This demonstrates why companies lose out - all companies presumably want their employees to produce results. Why wouldn't you pay all your employees based on merit rather than gender. Then they gain an incentive to be as productive as possible. Then there are the men in this situation.

Whilst majority of people would not care if their colleagues were being paid less than them regardless of the reason, it should matter on a general level. Being paid more based on gender de-values your work. The reality is that they aren't only being paid more because they are good at what they do, they are being paid that much because they are male.

Why wouldn't you want your partner to earn the same regardless of gender? Together, you would then have more income. And do you think your mum or your sister or your mate should be paid less despite being great at their jobs just because they happen to be female? It just doesn't make sense. Women earning the same as men doesn't change what men earn, it shouldn't change anything other than it makes women feel that they are valued despite their gender and it is right that they should.

What is a different matter is pay based on merit... something I think will be more important once the headlines read "Gender pay gap % in Construction". Hopefully we will see this headline soon!