Diversify Your Workforce in the Face of a Labor Shortage
Written By Tyler Jones
Diversify workforce during labor shortage
While still a relatively small percentage of the professionals in the industry, women’s influence in BIM and the construction industry continues to grow.  Currently about 10 percent of the workforce in the industry are held by women, a rate that has been steady over the past two decades.  But as the industry struggles through a labor shortage, women are stepping into prominent roles in the industry, from the job site to the board room.

Having people of various backgrounds on a team adds greater depth to your operations.  People look at problems in various ways, seeking solutions through various means.  The more diverse your team, the more diverse those proposed approaches can take, and the more likely you are to come up with the most effective solution to a problem.

Still, there are significant barriers still existent for women entering the industry or making their ways up their career paths, with some of these barriers being institutional and others societal.  By recognizing and knocking down these barriers, companies can support women entering the industry and support a pipeline of talent to fill the industry for a generation to come.  Here are some things that will help boost your support:

Ignore tradition:  For generations, women have not been encouraged to take roles in the construction industry. Often, family, teachers and career counselors direct them to careers traditionally associated with their gender.  That’s changing.  With extended STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs from elementary school through college, students can learn and explore various fields to find what interests them.  Directing female students to courses in STEM is becoming the norm, as technology, education and opportunity expand to provide equal access to skills development.

Celebrate role models:  International Women in Engineering Day-- June 24—is when the industry recognizes the growing contribution of women to the profession.  It’s also a time when businesses can stop to recognize specific women for their work.  By highlighting the achievements of women in engineering and architecture--people like Hedy Lamarr, who designed the proximity fuse that is credited with helping the Allies win World War II, to architect Elisabeth Scott, designer of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to Katherine Johnson, a “computer” for NASA who developed pioneered orbital mechanics, newcomers to the industry see people, like themselves, who have conquered great obstacles.

Finding role models within your organization, your region and your industry can provide the needed inspiration to help girls and women achieve their fullest potential in their careers.  Hold them up as examples of people who should be celebrated, admired, and emulated.

Provide mentors: Mentors help people find their road to travel, be it in a career, in a sport or in life.  They provide wisdom and guidance to counsel you on decisions you make and the life course you’re going to take.  They can provide a gentle push to get you going when needed or advise you to rein yourself in if you need to.  Companies can provide career mentors to employees, interns, and students to help them navigate their way into the industry, and maybe into the company.

Being a mentor may sound intimidating, but it is a fulfilling endeavor as you see your mentees advance in their careers.  Individual mentors and the companies that support them provide a valuable service to people new in the industry.

Overcoming a lack of experience:  According to HR professionals, one of the key reasons a person doesn’t get hired for a job is the lack of applicable experience.  This is a Catch-22:  how can you get experience if you don’t have a job in the field, and how can you get a job in the field if you don’t have experience?  The answer is to reshape some of the job descriptions to allow for a ramp up for people taking entry-level positions, so they learn skills and industry operations while on the job, and then transitioning them to more responsibilities later.  Trade unions do this through apprenticeship programs, and private companies can do the same by having new hires “shadow” more experienced team members. Apprenticeships offer an opportunity to scope out the culture before making a commitment to the industry or a specific company.

When hiring, look at the potential of an employee to grow while with your company.  A good hire will always become more experienced.  Ask yourself:  are you letting a good person, a good engineer and a good teammate walk out the door because you’re too stuck on what they can do today?

Counter the perception of the industry:  It’s evident that AEC and MEP are male-dominated industries. A recent study showed that many people--both men and women--leave the industry because of harassment and bullying when people do not meet those stereotypes.  To bring more women into the industry, that perception must be changed.  Companies--from engineering firms to general contractors--must have public policies against harassment and bullying on the job, and they must follow through on those policies by enforcing them.

What You Can Do

As members of the AEC and BIM communities, companies can take significant steps to alleviate some of the shortcomings of the industry in attracting and keeping female professionals.  It starts long before someone submits a resume or applies for a job online.  The process for changing corporate culture to support female employees--as well as those of other diverse backgrounds--starts by fostering their development in the industry through their education and professional opportunities.

Outreach:  Encourage your team--particularly your female professionals--to go to schools, scout meetings, and other events where they can talk about careers in BIM and AEC.  Make it part of your company’s business plan to have high visibility at career days at high schools, tech schools and colleges in your community.  These events don’t just promote your industry; they’re also recruitment opportunities for your team.

This outreach should not be targeted at just the students themselves.  Promoting STEM careers should also involve the parents and school career counselors. These people have significant influence on how a child--male or female--views their future opportunities.  Plan an open house for your company, local industry association, or trade union and invite career counselors. By showing them how things work in the real world--with increasing tech, growth opportunities, and career fulfillment--you can encourage them to direct more students to pursue studies in AEC or attend a trade school.

Be the example:  We talked above about how role models and mentors are key to getting people to see themselves in professional positions in the future.  Who better to exemplify what you seek than you?  Set up mentoring programs for your young employees and local students.  Ask your teammates to participate.  Seek community accolades for your team and promote those through the local media.  Highlight the accomplishments of your female team members to local business journals and national industry publications.

Invite students, parents and educators to your facilities for field days or lunch-and-learns.  The more people see your work, your team and your example, the better you’ll be able to steer people to not just your industry, but your company.  If women can see themselves working in your space, you’ll have more of them applying for your open jobs.

Sponsorships:  At some point, many things do come down to money, and here are some examples of that.  Band together with your industry partners-- an industry association, a trade union or the partners on a project--to commit to helping people, including women, get into the industry.  Design apprenticeships or internships to work on specific projects so people can gain experience and see the responsibilities of people in these positions from the start of a project to the end.  Make education a key part of your corporate culture.

Sponsor scholarships at your local tech school or high school, and support contests at these locations that give students an opportunity to try their hand at some basic project skills.  Engage with potential future employees at industry events and mixers.  But mainly, support the local organizations--like the Girl Scouts or school clubs--to help them develop the skills in their participants that can flourish in BIM and AEC.

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