Eleanor Cochrane talks to Jim Briggs, commercial director of Durkan, a member of the Building Work for Women steering committee
What is Building Work for Women?
It is a committee that started in 1999 in order to tackle the skills shortage in construction, to help women get experience on site, and to get more women into construction. The first phase of work experience started this time last year, and phase two is just beginning now.

What has it achieved so far?
In phase one, about 20 women were taken on for 13 weeks' work experience, and most of them have now got jobs in the industry. Durkan took on eight or nine improvers [as the BWW work experience women are known] in phase one, and has since employed three of them. The site managers are coming back and asking for more improvers because their performance is good; they are clean, tidy and have been properly trained to do their jobs. They are also less gung-ho about safety.

What next then?
Phase two involves taking on more improvers – something Durkan has already done. About 14 women have been taken on so far. There is also the "Build Up" programme, which is designed to get the improvers into smaller businesses and community groups.

Is it still difficult for women to get into construction?
Yes, but this is partly because of a misconception that women face difficulties with men on site. Actually, 99% of the men are fine. You just need to get the women on to the sites to start to realise that. There are enough women training – it is just a matter of getting them to take that next step.

The site managers are coming back and asking for more women, because they are clean, tidy and less gung-ho about safety

Do you think construction is attractive to women?
It is not attractive, but I don't think that is a gender issue. There are a number of reasons, such as the problem of bad site conditions and uncertainty about training and career paths.

I do think that it is getting better, though. The industry had a big problem in the last recession when wages went down, but now they are getting back up again. Construction needs to be made more attractive, especially to school leavers. The industry definitely has an image problem. Some people are better with their hands than with their heads, and they should be encouraged on to sites rather than going to university. That way they could have a trade by the time they are 18.

Has the scheme been a success?
It has, but it is still very small. Hopefully it will grow – it has just received more funding so that phase two can go ahead. Schemes like this one can only do so much, but they are important for raising awareness.