Benefits of Encouraging More Female Apprentices to the Electrical Industry

Gender diversity in the electrical industry is shockingly poor. Anyone who has been on a construction site recently will have noticed that 99% of the workers are male. Despite years of positive recruitment campaigns, women still only represent 12% of construction professionals and 1% of workers in manual trades. Office of National Statistics data and industry surveys show barely any improvement in female representation in the UK construction sector over recent years.  Watkinscole are keen to recruit female apprentices and qualified electricians; we believe that women working in stereotypically male career paths will benefit not only the construction industry, but also the client and businesses.   Read on to learn the advantages that encouraging more females into electrical apprenticeships can offer businesses, clients and society as a whole.


2.96 million people work in the construction industry in Britain. This accounts for 7% of workers across all business sectors. The construction industry in this context refers to new builds, civil engineering and infrastructure. Specialised construction activities include demolition, site preparation, energy supply, electrical, plumbing, completion and finishing activities.

Just one in twelve people working in construction is female. These figures do not differentiate between site based or office staff, therefore, the real number of females working specifically on site will be far lower.   Only one in every 1,000 electrical contractors is female, making it one of the highest male orientated industries in the UK.

No matter how one looks at it, the construction sector is lagging behind almost every other industry when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. Despite the low starting point, moving the needle has proved an insurmountable mountain so far. We all have a duty to change this under-representation.

What’s the problem?

Reasons more women don't join contractors https://watkinscole.com

As the graph above shows, there is a myriad of reasons that may be deterring women from choosing a career in the construction section sector. Let’s examine the main barriers.

Historically, working in construction was a “man’s job” Judging by the numbers of females working and training in this sector, this outdated attitude still appears to dominate the industry as a whole. This is a fundamental reason why women are not choosing careers in what is perceived to be traditional male job roles. Additionally, some businesses appear reluctant to employ more women for precisely the same reason: It is hard to deny that people instinctively think of construction work as a ‘man’s job’. Some have the preconception that only men are big and strong enough to perform construction tasks properly.

Given that just under half of all construction is for repair and maintenance purposes, the jobs in our sector are not necessarily a matter of physical strength. Moreover, The belief that all women are weaker than men and ‘don’t belong’ in certain industries is a myth long punctured in other industries. We must banish this misconception, as women have demonstrated that they have the skills, strength and ability to work as competently as men.

Sexism is another deterrent for women in construction: research shows that more than half of female construction workers said they were treated worse than men because of their gender. All too often, women have to put up with inappropriate male comments, missed promotion opportunities and an often-unconscious bias. 

These negative perceptions, combined with the fact that some companies do not offer women opportunities equal to their male counterparts is not conducive to encouraging more women into the industry.

We can argue until the cows come home as to whether women want to work as electricians. Our main objective must be to encourage and inspire young women to consider a career in all sectors of the construction industry as naturally as more stereotypical female job choices.

As Robert Knowles, the Chairman of Construction Consultant says: “You have to persuade people in the media to portray the industry in a more positive light. The perception is of cowboy builders and of pile drivers making a terrible row. The construction industry shows itself in its underpants.”

The Importance of Female Apprentices

The reality is that unless businesses start providing more exposure to women currently working in the industry nothing will change. It is time for companies to encourage women to choose construction as a career option from an early age.

At Watkinscole, we offer young people the opportunities that work experience and apprenticeships provide. We actively encourage women to include the electrical trade when they are considering career options, the industry as a whole need more women in construction roles to compete for jobs on an equal footing with male counterparts.

A note of warning: turning the tide will not be easy because with just 14% of engineering courses and technology-driven degrees attracting women, the current crop of students is unlikely to yield high numbers of new female construction sector employees any time soon.

It is a positive sign that that we had 23, 000 apprenticeship enrolments in the construction sector in 2017/18, with 48% females and 52% males. The department for education suggests the construction sector accounted for 7% of all apprenticeship starts in 2017, compared with just under 5% the year before. The Healthcare sector’s registration of 27% of all new apprentices dwarfs the construction sector entrants last year. Construction companies have some catching up to do in terms of attracting more female apprentices.

It is encouraging that the smaller construction companies who employ under 50 staff engaged 68% of the apprentices in the construction sector. This number surely gives us the platform to substantially increase the numbers of women in the construction sector in the coming years. Is your company doing enough to give women a chance to come into the industry?

The Benefits of Female Apprentices

Increasing the numbers of women in the construction sector is not just the right thing to do; it also makes business sense. When we include more women in the electrical industry, our companies, clients and society gain in many ways. Here are just five significant benefits that we cannot afford to continue to ignore.

  1. Balanced Perspective

Let’s face it, men don’t have a monopoly on all of the answers to the sector’s issues, let alone the problems facing society at large. The current male-dominated culture and excessive masculinity on construction sites can harm any workplace. We live in a world of diverse genders, and the differences between the sexes can bring new ideas and enable everyone to move forward and find new and better solutions and perspectives.

It, therefore, makes moral and rational sense to work with the other half of the human population to achieve better solutions than men alone currently provide.

Workforce issues in construction https://watkinscole.com

2. Workforce challenges

The construction sector is up against serious workforce challenges that are leading to skills shortages. We cannot ignore the UK’s ageing construction operatives, given that between 1991 and 2011 there was a 13% increase in the numbers aged 45 years and over. Statistics estimate that one in every five UK-born construction workers are aged over 55, meaning that by 2021, those people will be approaching retirement age.

Another element of the workforce issue is the fact that nationwide, foreign nationals currently account for more than 10% of the UK construction industry workforce, with 78% from EU countries and 3% outside the EU. In London, the proportion of foreign nationals is even more worrying as research shows that 35% of London’s construction workers are from overseas.

The ageing workforce and talent shortages mean that the entire construction industry must look at the areas of the industry that block or discourage broader entry. Businesses like ours would be biting off our noses to spite our face if we don’t all discover how to involve half of our population to plug these gaps.

  1. More Productivity

Nothing destroys the culture of a workplace more than mistreating people. Regardless of whether it is intentional or unconsciously. Studies show that contractors’ workplaces are biased towards Caucasian males with ‘job for the boys’ attitudes. This mentality is deterring a large demographic of people based on gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

Discrimination of all types can be deep-seated. However, creating a culture of mutual respect between managers, employees and colleagues can only encourage inclusivity within the workforce. Mutual respect creates a more comfortable environment and enhances morale, which in turn helps to increase productivity. Most of us give our best performance, work harder and for longer when we are happy at work. Businesses that achieve this level of diversity will see higher returns in their bottom line.

4. Equal society

Women make up half our population and so it is only right that they are allowed to fulfil their potential and thrive in careers across our economy, including construction. Given how lucrative jobs in development can be for skilled professionals, it is unfair to preclude women from opportunities purely because of their gender. If we don’t share the wealth in construction, our children, families and communities will miss out on the earning potential and spending power of half of the population. Every company has the responsibility of setting an example by changing the male-dominated focus and creating something much more equal and balanced.

5. Unique Differentiator

The lack of women in construction will differentiate you as the business that has a diverse workforce with genuinely equal job opportunities. I do not doubt that just as health & safety is now an automatic requirement within the large corporate organisations, equality and diversity across the board is becoming a criterion requirement.

It is imperative that companies recognise the importance of creating a diverse and equal workplace. This will enable the best talent to rise to the top, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, cultural background or beliefs. The outcome will be better solutions and services for our clients. There is a demand for tradeswomen, we all need to encourage them to join the construction industry to cope with this demand.

Bringing it all Together

No industry sector can afford to ignore half of the population from its workforce, yet construction is doing pretty well at doing precisely that. The wise adage ‘start them young and raise them right’ is a mantra every company should adopt to build a diverse workforce with the skills and qualities to develop a successful business. Here at Watkinscole, we are on a mission to encourage more women to work in our industry. Join us by engaging more female apprentices and creating a more level playing field for women contractors. We can all do more to create a greater diversity within the construction sector, which will bring greater profitability that is sustainable.