When you think of male-dominated industries, it is likely that construction comes to mind. The physically demanding labour needed on a construction site is often associated with men.
However, apprentice Alice Heaton, alongside training provider Grantham College & University Centre, and her employer JRL Brickwork LTD, are working hard to break down these gender stereotypes. The skills shortage in construction has been a growing concern for construction companies, and as more time goes by, the problem becomes more pressing. One of the main reasons for the UK skills shortage – specifically in the construction industry, is an ageing workforce. As construction workers reach retirement age, fewer people are entering the industry to replace them. There has never been a more important time for construction employers to invest in the next generation of workers. Encouraging more women to join the construction field, as well as offering apprenticeships will certainly help fill the gaps.
Alice, has always been keen to pursue a career in bricklaying as she wanted to challenge herself in a role that enabled her to stay physically fit and she loves the idea of being able to build her own house one day. After completing a full-time course at Grantham College & University Centre, she decided her natural progression route was to undertake an apprenticeship. Alice has been working for JRL Brickwork since September and it is clear that she has already made a lasting impression with her employer. James Laurie, Director explained “Alice has made excellent progress during her time working at JRL. As a firm believer in the apprenticeship process and understanding the need to grow future talent, we as a company employ a minimum of 5 apprentices per year. Our retention rate of apprentices after they complete their qualification is extremely high, with many of our previous apprentices now running gangs or in managerial roles within the company. Alice is the first female apprentice we have employed, and we are keen to grow this in the future. We offer a package of support to all of our employees, male or female, but it has been imperative to me that Alice feels safe, secure and valued within the team, and the outside environment in which she is working. We have a duty of care to ensure that she is not faced with any gender prejudice, and so far, she has had nothing but a positive experience when on site.”
Alice has had experience of working on smaller one-off builds and has now started work on a much larger housing estate site, project managed by C3 Construction. When asked Alice said “I am really enjoying working on site and have learnt so much in the short time I have been here, such as doing plots and English bond walls. I was initially nervous going from private to site work and did expect some of the stereotypical, sexist comments. However, everyone has been so helpful and eager to support me when needed. As a female, it has been a challenge working in this sector as you fear that some may see you as a bit of a novelty. I feel like I have had to work twice as hard to prove myself and ability, but I have earnt the respect of my colleagues who treat me as they would any other employee. I have found undertaking an apprenticeship so rewarding as I am able to gain a valuable insight into what goes on in the industry, as well as learn the theoretical side at College – all whilst getting paid to do so! Having a supportive employer makes all of the difference to your experience and I feel lucky to be part of the company I work for.”
When asked what advice she would give to any women wanting to join the industry, Alice said “Go for it! As long as you are determined, thick-skinned and hardworking then nothing can stop you.”
With Alice’s grit and drive, it is evident that she has a successful career in bricklaying ahead of her and will hopefully inspire other females to follow her lead.