Labor shortages across various industries are making headlines lately, including the construction industry. One article in Curbed.com cited “immigration crackdowns, economic after-effects of the recession, and a lack of interest on the part of millennials as some of the reasons why the field may be down by 275,000 workers. That’s affecting housing costs, at a time when the country is already suffering from rising housing prices. National Association of Homebuilders economist Stephen Melman predicts growth of 4-5 percent in housing starts next year, and an increase in construction-labor positions to the tune of 12 percent between 2016 and 2026.”
Could women be the solution to the construction industry’s labor shortage?
Currently, women make up less than 3 percent of the construction workforce, which includes the building trades—hands-on jobs like carpentry, bricklaying, and electrical work—as well as management. If twice as many women worked in the field, the industry’s labor shortage would, according to data available from the U.S. Department of Labor, practically be wiped out.
For the first time, women took center stage at METALCON 2018 last month in Charlotte, North Carolina. Heidi Ellsworth, co-founder of National Women in Roofing (NWIR) and partner at Rooferscoffeeshop®, moderated an all-women expert roofing panel with a mix of manufacturers and contractors. They discussed the importance of gender and generational diversity in the business, how to create a better balance in the industry, and the values of emotional intelligence, strong communication and collaboration needed to grow a sustainable and robust business.
“If businesses really want to stay sustainable, profitable and scalable, they have to bring in the talent of all generations, all genders and all types of people from all different backgrounds and nationalities,” said Ellsworth.
Diane Powers of the Association of Women in Metal Industries was also on hand and couldn’t agree more with Ellsworth. Powers is looking forward to her association’s participation next year at METALCON 2019 in Pittsburgh. “I’m here to learn more about products, learn more about the industry and to meet people,” said Powers.
The Curbed.com article goes on to say, “With gender disparities narrowing in industries across the board, figuring out how to get more women into construction seems like a no-brainer. But there are a number of hurdles that first have to be overcome. scarcity of images depicting women at work in the industry and stereotypes of male construction workers as unwelcoming to women. There are undoubtedly obstacles to women entering construction en masse. But the upsides are significant, according to women currently in the field.”
According to a blog post shared by Rooferscoffeeshop.com, women are in a position to help change the roofing industry. They concurred that the construction industry is facing a labor void for a variety of reasons. Prior to 2006, there was a surplus of workers, but the recession eliminated millions of construction jobs. Though our nation and industry have recovered, the general desire to work in construction seems to have diminished. This combined with the baby boomers’ retirement has created a labor void. The labor void is a serious issue facing the roofing industry.
Women are an important part of filling this labor void, especially in roofing. Many women can withstand the physical demands of the job as well as men, and other are making waves in business or leadership positions. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women in the construction industry earn 97 cents for every dollar a man earns, compared to the US average of 80 cents. For example, having female representation in your company can help set prospective female clients at ease. According to Forbes, women now represent 70 to 80 percent of all consumer purchasing power. In some instances, women respond better to female representation when it comes to a new roof or roof repair. It can add a greater relatability factor and help alleviate the fear of being overcharged.
There are signs that changes are happening. The Association of General Contractors (AGC), for example, says it’s committed to attracting more women, and has lobbied for increased funding for technical education. It’s also almost ready to launch a targeted digital advertising campaign to hit certain demographic groups, including women, in seven cities.
“We need to do a better job of telling the story of all the opportunities that exist in this industry,” says Brian Turmail, AGC’s director of public affairs. “It’s not your father’s industry anymore.”
The changes are more global than just here in the United States. Roofing Today reported that the third annual Women in Roofing conference took place in the UK in March 2018 with over 120 people in attendance from all parts of the UK roofing sector. “It’s inspiring for us as an organisation to see how the numbers of women in roofing are growing. In the first year that we held a conference there were no women roofers attending, last year there was one. This year there were half a dozen. I hope in years to come we will see numbers break into the tens and then hundreds!”, Denise Cherry, Director of Women in Roofing, commented.
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