Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, who compiled the report, spoke to 371 black and Asian people in the construction industry. They found that they had a catalogue of concerns, from racist comments, difficulty in getting contracts and jobs, and if they did get jobs, poorer promotion prospects than their white peers.
The report was commissioned after pressure from the Department for Education and Employment to investigate the low numbers of black and Asian recruits to the industry.
Construction minister Nick Raynsford admits there is a problem. He told Building: "The construction industry does not have a good record of recruiting or then developing employees from ethnic minorities. This is a missed opportunity, not only for people who may be very well suited to a job in construction, but also for the industry itself."
Does the industry care that it is discriminating against a pool of talent it can ill afford to ignore? The short answer is no. Firms express concern about the poor representation of ethnic minorities in the industry, and most have equal opportunities policies. But these policies are not working - either in overcoming the perception of a white-dominated industry with an entrenched culture of racism, or in eradicating discrimination for those already in construction (as our interviews opposite show). Racist graffiti and casual racist banter are all too common on Britain's sites.
The race issue is not new. But it has surfaced at a time when a London Underground Jubilee Line engineer has been charged with planting the nail bombs in London's Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho, and when the report on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry highlighted institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police Force. Royal Holloway research manager June Jackson says the climate of concern has prompted several companies from other industries to ask her to analyse whether they are racist.
The CITB is taking action but contractors have yet to wake up to the issue. A Building straw poll of contractors and consultants suggests that many see it as the CITB's problem, or as a problem for the industry in general rather than their firm in particular.
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As a result of the report's findings, the CITB is taking action. It has set itself a target of attracting 10% more black and Asian recruits to the industry in the next year. It has started an advertising campaign in the national press featuring black and Asian people it hopes will make good role models. It also plans to visit schools in areas with large ethnic minorities to encourage more young people to consider construction as a career.
CITB chief executive Peter Lobban talks about the need to target employers on an area-by-area basis to "make sure they're keen to take on black and Asian trainees".
"Their perception of the industry is not as good as it should be," he says, somewhat understatedly.
But tackling recruitment is not enough, according to a spokesperson for the Commission for Racial Equality, which supports the Royal Holloway's findings. She compares the number of ethnic construction employees who feel discriminated against – 39% had experienced racist remarks – with the police and the army, both of which have at least taken steps to tackle racism.
The CRE spokesperson added: "Bright young black and Asian people don't feel comfortable about the construction industry, and they're going to look elsewhere to professions such as law, accountancy and IT."
The CRE's message to the industry is clear – racism and ethnic minority representation need to become boardroom issues. "People in a position of power need to take responsibility and put them on the agenda. It shouldn't be seen as just a human resources issue," she said.
Samuel and rock, of Irvine Whitlock, have experienced overt and covert racism. Says samuel: Graffiti can’t hurt you, can it?
Yet that is precisely how major contractors do seem to see it. Costain's training and recruitment manager, Geoff Hughes, was on the steering committee for the report. "I think this report will stimulate a response within my company," he said.
He added, however, that he had not yet raised the issue with his chief executive, and thought it was a problem that needed to be addressed alongside other contractors.
A Bovis spokesman expressed surprise at being asked to provide figures for the number of black and Asian people the company employs. And no, the company's ethnic mix is not being discussed at board level – "Racial discrimination is not perceived as a problem within Bovis," he said, although he added that "we do acknowledge a general lack of people from certain ethnic minorities coming into the industry".
Mace operations director Jonathan Goring said discrimination was an issue that the company could not afford to ignore. Unlike many other construction firms, it keeps data on the numbers of blacks and Asians it employs, and at 10%, this stands above the national average.
Goring says he thinks the issue needs to be dealt with right from the start, with the new recruits that are coming into the industry. "A lot of it starts at the feeder end and with the general attractiveness of the construction industry."