Trade secretary launches campaign to persuade more women to break into ‘macho’ world of construction.

Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt has begun a drive to persuade more women to get jobs in construction amid fears that many are deterred the industry’s macho attitudes.

Hewitt’s plan, launched on Tuesday at a Downing Street summit, comes as a TUC report shows female school leavers are shunning careers in construction.

Hewitt’s proposals include:

  • Careers advisers offering girls more information on traditionally male jobs and providing guidance for those who want to work in these sectors.
  • Taster sessions for adult women in construction trades.
  • Funding for universities to help female engineering graduates to find work.
  • A drive to increase the number of female entrepreneurs starting up their own business.

The proposals are part of an attempt to close the gender pay gap by tackling occupational segregation. Research shows that more than 60% of working women are concentrated in the 10 occupations that traditionally pay the least, such as nursing, whereas they make up only 1% of the better-paid construction workforce.

Hewitt criticised the “macho image” of construction, saying it was vital to encourage more women as a means of tackling skills shortages and rolling back the pay gap between women and men.

She said: “Career sexism limits opportunities for women of all ages and prevents them from achieving their full potential. At a time of fierce global competition we cannot afford to neglect anyone’s talent.”

Hewitt said many women mistakenly believed they could not do jobs in industries such as construction. She said: “There are many women who want to get into these jobs, but are put off by the male-dominated image and the misconception that a woman simply couldn’t do the job.”

The TUC highlighted the industry’s image in a report that showed that only 1% of girls aged 16-17 not in full time education were taking jobs in construction. This compared with 10% of boys in the same category.

Women working in the industry welcomed Hewitt’s measures. Clare Murdoch, business development manager at fit-out firm Parkeray, said: “I think the proposals to raise awareness are fantastic. When I was younger I didn’t have a clue what the industry was about. There was no way a careers adviser would ever have recommended construction to me at school.”

But Murdoch said more could be done to tackle the problem. She said: “At the end of the day the best way to reach people is to let them hear from those who are really involved. Having inspirational speakers from the workforce and the industry’s bodies would hammer home to school leavers that construction is a real option.”