Radmila Desic's Women in Construction Strategy is an over-arching program that can be incorporated into all strategies and major projects for the building and construction industry. By identifying and addressing specific issues which form a barrier to women entering the industry, the Women in Construction Strategy helps to address wider problems such as skill shortages, long term unemployment, mature aged worker retention and indigenous employment issues.
The first draft of the Women in Construction Strategy was developed following feedback received from the Women in Construction Industry Forum held on 1 November 2006 in Queensland. This productive event helped identify major stakeholders for the development of the strategy, as well as to clarify many of the issues surrounding female participation in the building and construction industry. An industry working group was formed to develop further actions to increase the number of women in trades, paraprofessional and professional careers in construction. This is the current working document version of the strategy.
In order to achieve the objective of increasing female participation in the building and construction workforce, Ms Desic felt that a range of strategies must be considered and contextualised for existing initiatives.
The following are the five key issues she focused on with strategies for each, as she outlined in her application:
· Attracting and retaining women in apprenticeships and traineeships
· Developing industry pathways for women into para-professional and professional careers
· Repositioning women as employees of choice
· Industry commitment to gender equity and accessibility of the trades
· Recognising the skills of the women already working in the industry
One strategy for Attracting and retaining women in apprenticeships and traineeships is to target teenage girls and women through the International Women’s Day Women in Construction week. This involves Queensland TAFE colleges across the state making their facilities available during school hours for high school girls and after 4pm for mature aged women to get in and have a go at a trade. Previously they have had the opportunity to try Bricklaying, Tiling, Plastering, and Painting, Surveying and driving a simulation excavator. This type of promotion of non-traditional trades allows women to experience the work first hand and see that it is not impossible to do.
Tailored entry level training programs will also be introduced. These will include ‘all female’ pre-trade courses with structured work placements, to better support women with an introduction to the industry. These programs will target mature aged, long term unemployed and indigenous women also. The reasoning behind an ‘all female’ pre-trade training course is to provide women with an opportunity to question and try something new without being ridiculed or feeling like they have failed.
A focus on the retention of women will involve undertaking a survey to understand why they are leaving the industry. Outcomes of this survey will help us in developing industry pathways for women into para-professional and professional careers to better assist us to identify requirements for post trade and/or higher education information. Career progression information will also be developed to better assist women to map their careers in construction. The intent is to bring together current female apprentices at a workshop to build supportive networks for each other and to provide them with professional development and leadership skills.
Recognising the skills of the women already working in the industry is about making existing female workers aware of the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process and requirements so that they can have their skills assessed and become formerly qualified. The key target for this is action is the partners of trade’s men that have for years been running the business and in some case assisted as labourer or trowel hands on site.
One way to start repositioning women as employees of choice is by gathering and promoting case studies of successful tradeswomen. These will be used extensively to change the perception of the industry and of women’s roles within the industry. Introductory information sessions such as “Try a Trade” will be run across the state to encourage school leavers and women changing their careers to consider the construction industry as a career option. This will include information on the Women into Building Project from the Sunshine Coast. This showcase home built by the Buildmore group highlights the high standard and quality of the work output by women in the industry. It also clearly shows how support from the males in the industry builds women’s capacity for success. Information on this project can be found at www.womenintobuilding.com.au
To advance this strategy Industry commitment to gender equity and accessibility of the trades is a must. It has been identified that the National Association for Women in Construction’s (NAWIC) Queensland Chapter Council is well placed to take over the management and implementation of this strategy. Industries growing support for NAWIC has become more evident through the increase in sponsorship and attendance of events. It is also acknowledged as an association of choice in addressing and increasing awareness of issues confronting female employees, this clearly highlights that they are open to a commitment of gender equity. In Queensland strong industry support, potential financial backing from Construction Skills Queensland and strong partnerships with relevant government departments to set targets are all needed for a targeted and holistic approach to ensure successful outcomes.
Improving female participation in non-traditional trades is not a new concept asMs Desic acknowledges. Over the past 15 years, a long string of initiatives have been trialled, both in Queensland and across the nation, to improve the uptake of women into the building and construction industry. Many of these projects were well-resourced with wide media coverage – but despite this, the participation rate of women in Queensland construction trades has remained almost unchanged since 1986. Ms Desic felt that it had become evident that previous methods were not effective in supporting widespread change. Previous strategies have relied heavily on a program-based model: apprenticeship funding, marketing campaigns, or face-to-face engagement exercises. While all of these have helped to raise awareness of the issue, they had failed due to a lack of scope and support.
Ms Desic attributed the failure to the problem being much wider than any isolated program can hope to address. Attracting, recruiting, training and retaining women to the male-dominated construction industry require support at every step and every level of the VET skilling system. Coordinating support of this magnitude would require a central agency capable of influencing workforce development methodology across the state, with the funding and infrastructure to support an ongoing commitment to women in construction.
Desic's Women In Construction initiative takes a new approach by providing an integrated strategy; it is designed to compliment and inform every other aspect of the Construction Skills Queensland skilling portfolio. Rather than isolate the promotion of women to a separate agenda, it is instead integrated into the objectives of Construction Skills Queensland, to support the five strategic imperatives outlined above.
This is operationalised simply by the identification of achievable targets for the promotion of women in each Construction Skills Queensland initiative, coupled with a dedicated marketing strategy to send a unified message to industry. In Desic's view, female apprentices and tradespeople offer a real solution to the current crisis in Australia in skills development and acquisition, and participation in the workforce. Furthermore Desic believes that women are valuable to the industry: "Women are typically better communicators with more of an inclination or capacity to develop their communication skills. Women pay more attention to detail, this is an important and key skill for today’s economic environment and market as “close enough” is no longer good enough. Women bring fresh ideas to the industry by applying diverse problem solving techniques which improve decision making and enhance innovation."
Moreover, Desic explains that changes in policy and procedures within this industry to become more accommodating to women will enhance the work life balance for men also. It is becoming more evident that the younger generation of males also struggle with the working hours and inflexible structure of this industry they too want to spend more quality time with their families or simply spending time on their interests in life. These positive changes to the industry policies will also have a huge impact in breaking down the bullying culture of the industry.
Queensland’s Office for Women is a keen partner with a strong interest to see the actions from the Women in Construction strategy implemented. It strongly aligns with the Queensland Women in Hard Hats initiatives.
Other government agencies are also assisting this progress by setting clear expectations for diversity within government funded building projects. During the short time the strategy has been active, many industry and government stakeholders have offered their support and encouragement towards successful engagement, training and retention of women.
Some Examples of the Programs
In 2008 CSQ officially incorporated the WIC Strategy to the organisational structure and incorporated it into the Queensland Training Plan.
One such strategy is to target teenage girls through the Doorways to Construction (D2C) Program. This will include the establishment of the D2C program in a cluster of ‘all girls’ schools, as well as increasing the number of female participants in existing D2C schools. A targeted education program aimed at career advisors, teachers and trainers will need to be developed to positively promote the construction industry and the career pathways available to women.
Funding of tailored entry level training programs was also introduced. These include ‘all female’ pre-trade courses with structured work placements, to better support women with an introduction to the industry. These programs target mature aged, long term unemployed and indigenous women also. The following programs have been run successfully to date:
Girls with Spark – Electrical pre-apprenticeship course facilitated by the Tropical North Institute of TAFE. There was 95 applications submitted and 16 young ladies selected to participate. All 16 successfully completed and were sign up into apprenticeships in the Cairns region.
TAP Girls – Plumbing Pre-apprenticeship Course facilitated by Tropical North Institute of TAFE. All twelve participants have successfully completed the training aspect however all are still waiting to be engaged into apprenticeships.
Indigenous Women in Construction – which was Welfare to Work funded course, facilitated by Careers Australia Institute of Training. All participants successfully completed the course with 4 going on to pick up work in the industry
CEPU women in Plumbing program – Up to 20 women are to be signup and/or completed their apprenticeship by 2011. To date 10 women have commenced their apprenticeships in either a Certificate 3 in Plumbing or a Certificate 3 in Sprinkler fitting Construction Skills Queensland has assisted by funding the work experience component to provide opportunities.
A Certificate I in Resource and Infrastructure Course was delivered to an all female group by Civil Train. This course was also funded by Construction Skills Queensland. Over 70 ladies in Brisbane expressed an interest in doing the course, 14 were selected. Again all successfully completed the Certificate with several ladies picking up full time work in the civil industry. One lady was employed by a piling company which is a rarity.
Brisbane North Institute of TAFE at Bracken Ridge also delivers and all female Certificate 1 in General Construction to a group of 8 women in 2008 which was again funded by Construction Skills Queensland. As this was a much more mature aged class most of the ladies refused the onsite component.
A focus on the retention of women will involve undertaking a survey to understand why they are leaving the industry. Outcomes of this survey will link to the ‘post trade action plan’. Career progression information will also be developed to better assist women to map their careers in construction.
Through Ms Desic's role at CSQ, she has begun to gather and compile case studies of successful tradeswomen which will be used extensively to change the perception of the industry and of women’s roles within the industry. Introductory information sessions such as “Try a Trade” have been run across the state to encourage school leavers and women changing their careers to consider the construction industry as a career option.
Further, in an attempt to capture and spark a career in potential female construction workers, Ms Desic has gained Construction Skills Queensland’s commitment to continue to promote Women in Construction at a large number of construction industry expos, promotional and career events such as:
TAFE Queensland Try-a-Trade Register
Training Organisation open days
Career Days at Secondary School
The Construction Skills Queensland’s Be Constructive web site www.becontructive.com.au has a dedicated page to addressing requests for information from women and also promotes case studies of women who are role models in industry. Also available are dedicated flyers which clearly target young women.
CSQ has invested strongly towards destroying the stereo types of women in construction and all marketing to date is aimed to lead the way for all stakeholders to recognised women’s abilities and strengths. The media has also recognised that the time is right to address the lack of women in industry and has positively highlighted many strategic activities actioned by CSQ. This is demonstrated within the $120,000 worth of free media via editorials, radio interviews and prime time news in 2008 alone.
Mentoring is something that Ms Desic strongly believes is a key to the successful completion of any apprentice in the industry. As part of the Program, CSQ offers mentoring to D2C students, career seekers, Indigenous and female stakeholders. As an example of how CSQ offers mentoring to women, a Women in construction retention forum was held in partnership with QBuild in April 2008. The aim of the workshop was:
to prevent the decline of women in the industry during the downturn,
to grow the talent of women in the industry,
to foster self confidence and personal growth,
to provide an opportunity to network with their peers,
to develop personal and professional support and, to enable them to have a voice and sounding board.
The workshop was a success with up to 40 participants attending from both public and private sector. Further, CSQ has committed extensive resources into the continued mentoring support for women in construction through the commitment of a full time Project Officer (which is Ms Desic's role). The Project Officer ensures Construction Skills Queensland remains available to industry to assist girls with a need for support to cope with sensitive issues in an attempt to retain the ladies in the construction industry.
In terms of size and scope this project encompasses Queensland and to date Ms Desic has been able to influence Primary school, secondary school, TAFE and University involvement from an education aspect. Further through continued contact with industry associations/government/unions and also as the National Association of Women in Construction President (NAWIC) of the Qld chapter she is able to continually keep this issue on the industry agenda. This includes a recent invitation by the Australian Institute of Builders to speak at their National conference on this issue in 2010.
Laying the Foundations – The Women in Construction Action Plan
Through a process of industry engagement over the past 2 years – with both ‘coalface’ and executive representatives – Construction Skills Queensland has developed an initial action plan for the roll-out of the strategy. Combining new marketing and engagement initiatives and strong integration with existing programs, the CSQ Women in Construction Action Plan provides the roadmap for effecting real change for women in the Construction industry.
Acknowledgement from Senator Kate Lundy:
"With the number of women in the building trades sitting at a single digit percentile in the trades, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) have an ongoing important role to advocate for women in the industry and promote the career for girls. http://www.nawic.com.au/
Radmila Desic, a national director of NAWIC was at the launch to acknowledge the significance of the project too. NAWIC have been behind it from the start and Rad herself was the recipient of the International Women’s Day inaugural National Advancement for Women in the Workplace Award in 2010, an achievement that recognises her personal commitment to the cause.
Source: Women into Building Housing Showcase launched April 28, 2010 http://www.katelundy.com.au/2010/04/28/women-into-building-housing-showcase-launched/