Racism still taints the construction industry. A new report sponsored by the CITB says that site quotas for ethnic minorities may help reduce discrimination
The construction industry is not an attractive vocation for people from ethnic minorities. A Construction Industry Training Board report has found that the group only make up 2.7% of the construction industry compared with 6.7% of the British working population.

Not only is this embarrassing for the industry, it's also a wasted opportunity. Construction is one of the few sectors still seeking new recruits in the UK's stuttering economy and a large pool of potential talent appears to be turning its back on the industry.

The experiences of Najjif Shah and SO Irele help to explain why so few non-white English people choose to work in construction. Irelex sent a letter to Building this week recalling the abuse he has suffered during his 10-year career, and the racial attacks endured by Shah on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project led to him receiving £10,000 in damages from a subcontractor.

This racism is fed by the general discrimination and exclusion in the industry that has gone on unchecked for years. Construction minister Brian Wilson claims he is aware of the problem. Last week at the Labour Party Conference he attacked the industry for not employing enough people from ethnic minorities and he said the industry suffered from an image problem that undermined its drive to widen its skill base.

He was talking in advance of a report published this week called Retention and Career Progression of Black and Asian People in the Construction Industry.

In an attempt to reduce discrimination, the report, written by the Royal Holloway, University of London on behalf for the CITB, makes some radical recommendations. It proposes that site managers be made responsible for meeting ethnic minority targets on six pilot sites in London. The suggestion has been given short shrift by one leading contractor, who says site managers are too busy overseeing projects to do anything else.

Another suggestion that will probably fall on stony ground is the recommendation that interview boards should include at least one person from an ethnic background. For many construction firms this will be an impossible task simply because they have employed so few non-white males in the past.

Other suggestions are more realistic and are likely to get backing from the industry. The report says that guidance on dealing with racial discrimination should be given to site managers. It also calls on the CITB to form an implementation group made up of construction firms, client bodies, unions and education establishments to look at implementing the recommendations.

The report attaches great weight to the need to educate recruitment staff both within and outside the industry. It demands that professional recruitment agencies deal with companies that refuse to employ people from an ethnic minority and it calls for more guidance to be given to contractors' recruitment teams on equality and diversity.

There are some causes for hope amid the gloom. Irelex says the industry is starting to be influenced by enlightened attitudes in other professions and he says people are now standing up to discrimination.

There's still a long way to go, though. Irele says that the discrimination he experiences now is implied rather than expressed. This insidious form of racism is often more difficult to remove than the overt variety that currently stains the industry.