Diversify now! Why construction needs to widen its recruitment net


Haidee Gonsalves

Director, London


UK construction businesses face a looming skills crisis. They risk paying over the odds for under-qualified staff unless they can attract different types of people into the industry. Haidee Gonsalves, Director, hi-tech and manufacturing, outlines why the construction industry needs to diversify.

It is no secret that UK construction has the twin challenges of an aging population and insufficient pipeline of younger workers. Our inability to attract more women to the profession is compounding the skills shortage.

It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain experienced individuals in mechanical and engineering roles. As someone who works closely with a lot of engineering professionals, I often feel this when I walk into a meeting or onto site.

There just aren’t that many female faces. Our workplace is not reflective of the communities we live in, and that’s both a loss for business, and for society.

The issue runs deeper than getting the ‘look’ of the industry right. We’re facing a fundamental skills crisis that can only be solved by diversifying our talent.

The UK has got the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe – less than 13 percent! This is not a surprise for anyone working in the construction industry, but disappointing when you compare this to Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus. In those countries women make up 30 percent of the engineering workforce.

Attracting young talent

We’ve been encouraging children to engage with STEM (science, technology engineering and maths) subjects for years now.

But there is more we could do to expose young people to the sector’s employment possibilities, such as taster days and on-site placements for women and girls.

For instance, last year we launched a primary school programme with the National Literacy Trust to run skills workshops and encourage involvement in STEM subjects, and we’re also an industry partner to the Design Engineer Construct (DEC) accredited qualification in secondary schools.

It’s also reinforced by Innovate UK (part of UK Research and Innovation, a public body funded by the UK government) as it says there is clear evidence that this kind of approach will open the doors to a more diverse workforce.

Addressing the skills shortage

One thing businesses could do immediately is close the gender pay gap. It’s a good starting point for levelling the playing field and making a career in the industry a much more appealing option. A positive shift in recruitment and retention practices of construction companies will lead to a significant change in the gender imbalance, while addressing the skills issue at the same time.

Another important step is making it as easy as possible for women who have had significant periods of time off, such as those who have taken maternity leave, to integrate back into the business.

People who have had time away, for whatever reason, can bring skills and experience that will strengthen, enhance and diversify our teams.

At Turner & Townsend we have recently launched our career returners programme in the UK, which was a hugely important step towards reaching this group.

Building a diverse industry 

It’s important for businesses to provide visible role models for those in minority ethnic groups, and those from the LGBTQ+ community.

Building and supporting strong networks around diversity and inclusion is crucial for an organisation that genuinely wants to promote this sense of inclusivity and belonging.

These internal networks give people a safe space to share their experiences, offer advice and support each other’s career decisions. It can work as an informal kind of collective mentoring.

Benefits of a diverse workforce

Increasing diversity helps to shift traditional attitudes away from what might once have been an adversarial environment towards a more collaborative one – after all, diversity breeds respect. This in turn improves the perception and attractiveness of the construction industry to younger generations.

A larger, more effective and dynamic workforce will take the construction industry forward. Diversity has been proven to enhance innovation, widen the available skill set within a team and boost employee performance. People are happier in environments that foster inclusivity.

Passion for diversity

We all need to be passionate about diversity. For me personally, it’s about modernising the perception of the industry so women do not feel that a career within it is out of bounds. I am part of Turner & Townsend’s Addressing the Gender Balance network and am committed to driving this change. I am also part of our People Committee and our EDI network and the RICS Women of the Future group.

I use my experience to mentor and support those within the business to realise their full potential. It’s both rewarding and fun!

If we’re going to widen out the pool of talent and make it more accessible, we need to throw open the door, demystify the construction industry and better promote the huge range of interesting roles within it.

For further information contact:


Haidee Gonsalves
Director, London

t: +44 (0) 790 805 1350