Women in Fasteners & Tools: Construction's skills shortage

Poor diversity and a significant skills shortage are among the challenges facing the construction sector. Charity Women on the Tools (WotT) is aiming to tackle these head on, by making construction an appealing option for women early in their career development…

It will be news to none of Torque's readers that gender diversity in the construction industry is spectacularly poor.

But perhaps you’ve not been fully aware of just how severe the situation is: According to construction training and registration body CITB, only 14.5% of workers in the construction world are female – and a paltry 2% of manual workers are women.

At least things are changing in the modern era? Sadly no. Since the mid-1970s, there has been almost no increase in the percentage of women at
work in the skilled trades ‘on the tools’, when just under 1% of tradespeople were female.

White collar/blue collar

Whilst women at the more ‘white collar’ end of the continuum of careers in the construction/building industries (engineering, architecture, surveying, etc) are beginning to improve their positions, with their percentage of their overall workforce currently around 11-12%, change for women at the ‘blue collar’ end of the continuum is obstinately slow.

With the UK construction industry already facing a skills shortage that is “holding back building work just at a time when the country needs more
houses and infrastructure” (The Daily Telegraph, 16th Nov 2017), the reality is that companies must harness the power and skills of women to avoid inflaming that skills crisis still further.

Women on the Tools

Women on the Tools (WotT) is dedicated to getting more women ‘onto the tools’. In order to do this, WotT aims to start working with building trades and construction industry employers, to help them recruit and retain tradeswomen as a response to the current serious skills shortage, and in order to achieve a better gender balance between their employees working in construction.

WotT recently joined the Procure Plus (PPH) family by becoming a subsidiary of the group. PPH invests back into communities, training and developing people who find themselves far from the employment market. Together, they will be targeting a significant increase in the representation of women in PPH’s training and development programmes for 2018.


The longer term solution lies in how society influences women much earlier in their career development, to ensure construction is an option when they are considering their careers as young teenagers. To that end, PPH will focus on the education sector as a route to influence and inform young women of the career opportunities within the construction sector. This will have ‘down the line’ impact, but of course things need to change things more quickly than that, and that is why WotT and PPH are working closely with their current supply chain and training providers to open up opportunities for the limited number of women out there now, that have already decided that construction is for them.

“Gender stereotypes need to change”

Last year, WotT provided evidence to the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group outlining some of the issues faced by women who work or who want to work in the sector. Those issues included:

“Typically schools consistently fail to encourage girls to consider careers within the construction/building services worlds; even those girls who say they are interested in working with their hands.

“Our current culture continues to allow gender stereotypes to run riot in the construction and building worlds of work, and cultural attitudes show little sign of significant change in the key areas of careers advising, teaching, training and employing.

“Our experience suggests that until attitudes around ‘appropriate gender’ start to change significantly, in the main only very confident, older women are going to even consider working ‘on the tools’. In any significant number.”

If you’d like to get involved in work which WotT and PPH are doing, please contact WotT at info@womenonthetools.org.uk