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Diversity challenge: Taking care of the image of the construction industry as it seeks to recruit 200,000 more workers over the next five years – Caroline Barker, Considerate Constructors Scheme Monitor

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Caroline Barker joined the Considerate Constructors Scheme as a Monitor in 2013 due to her strong track record of enhancing business performance through introducing sustainable improvement initiatives as director of her own consultancy business. Coming from an engineering background, Caroline began her career as an assistant engineer for Henry Boot Civil Engineering, before going on to join Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. She then worked for Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, beginning as an engineer and progressing to business change manager, before joining Volkswagen and then setting up the consultancy business that she runs today.

Caroline Barker
Caroline Barker

“…I was given some great advice in my first role and I have tried to live by it, the advice was: Remember you are a professional woman, never swear on site and work as hard as your colleagues…”

Hooked on engineering design

I was always interested in maths and science at school and would have loved to have done technical drawing, but back then girls were encouraged to focus on home economics and needle craft! Luckily, my father had been a pattern maker and taught technical drawing, so I learnt some of these skills at home.

As I got older, I wanted to gain experience in engineering design and was given the opportunity via a friend of the family to gain work experience during the holidays in a highway design department – I was hooked.

First female technician – the start of a journey

I sat my O-levels (as they were then) and applied to college to do my A-levels, whilst unbeknown to my parents, started applying for jobs within the construction sector. I got an interview with Henry Boot Civil Engineering and was offered the position of trainee technician (I was the first female technician Henry Boot’s had recruited) and my journey began.

The job was fantastic! I gained experience in many core functions including design, drawing, estimating, quantity surveying and procurement. I then started working on site as an assistant engineer. I was also attending the local college one day and one evening a week working towards ONC and HNC civil engineering qualifications.

The grounding I received in this job set me up for the rest of my career. I then moved to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council working initially as an estimator within the Highways Department and then in drainage. I joined Yorkshire Water Services, beginning as an engineer and progressing to business change manager.

Getting lean

I went to work for Volkswagen as a process manager. It was at the time of the Egan Report, where it was stated that construction could learn a lot from the automotive industry. Through my time within the automotive industry I learnt a lot around lean manufacturing. I left the automotive industry after a couple of years to get back into the construction sector. My father and I set up a business supporting SMEs in construction to help businesses improve through people and process. I am also the training officer for The South Yorkshire Construction Training Group.

When I was asked to join the Considerate Constructors Scheme as a Monitor, I embraced the opportunity as it further reinforced my drive to support and improve the image of construction. I joined the Scheme in 2013. Earlier this year, I was and appointed to the Scheme’s Board as a Director.

About the Considerate Constructors Scheme

Considerate Constructors Scheme posterThe Considerate Constructors Scheme is a non-profit-making, independent organisation founded in 1997 by the construction industry to improve its image.

Construction sites, companies and suppliers voluntarily register with the Scheme and agree to abide by the Code of Considerate Practice, designed to encourage best practice beyond statutory requirements.

Taking care of the industry’s image

The Scheme is concerned about any area of construction activity that may have a direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole. The main areas of concern fall into three categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment.

The Code of Considerate Practice commits those sites and companies registered with the Scheme to care about appearance, respect the community, protect the environment, secure everyone’s safety and value their workforce.

Opportunity to become a positive advertisement for the construction industry as a whole

The construction industry has a huge impact on all our lives, with most construction work taking place in sensitive locations. If all construction sites and companies presented an image of competent management, efficiency, awareness of environmental issues and above all neighbourliness, then they would become a positive advertisement, not just for themselves, but for the industry as a whole.

The Scheme is open to construction sites, companies and suppliers operating within the UK. The Scheme covers all types and sizes of construction activity – with many construction companies and clients automatically registering all their work as company policy.

How it works in practice

Registered sites, companies and suppliers are monitored by the Scheme and display posters around the construction site, promoting their registration. If passers-by wish to comment, the name and telephone number of the site manager or company contact is clearly displayed, alongside the free phone telephone number of the Scheme’s administration office. Registered companies also display a vehicle sticker or magnet, showing their unique registration number, on every company and supplier vehicle used on the public highway.

I am a scheme monitor and carry out monitoring visits on construction sites against the Code of Considerate Practice. As a member of Scheme’s Board, I am involved in strategic development and reviewing the Scheme’s progress in helping to improve the industry’s image.

Construction sites, companies and suppliers voluntarily register with the Scheme and agree to abide by the Code of Considerate Practice. The Code monitors against five core areas: Care about Appearance, Respect the Community, Protect the Environment, Secure everyone’s Safety and Value their Workforce.

Advice and best practice encouraging the industry to continuously raise standards

This Code provides a framework from the Scheme to monitor the considerate performance of every registration. Advice is offered to help improve standards on site, and examples of best practice are recorded and shared across the industry via the Scheme’s Best Practice Hub. The highest performing registrations are recognised at a series of annual awards.

Through providing advice, sharing best practice and recognising the most considerate constructors, the industry is encouraged to continuously raise its standards. By improving the industry’s image, construction will be viewed as progressive and inspirational, attracting and retaining the skilled and diverse workforce which is required for its future success.

Showcasing construction as a positive, exciting industry for women

Considerate Constructors Scheme staffThe Scheme is all about improving the image of construction. As we all know, image is not just about what things look like, it goes far deeper than that. The Scheme is absolutely fundamental in helping to showcase the industry as a positive, exciting industry for women offering offers a vast array of opportunities to suit a wide range of skillsets.

Advice for women in construction

I was given some great advice in my first role and I have tried to live by it, the advice was: “Remember you are a professional woman, never swear on site and work as hard as your colleagues.”

Seek out relevant knowledgeable people and speak to them, gain work experience if possible, think through all the various routes and go for it. It is also important to consider all types of roles which exist across the industry.

Interest and intrigue..!

I don’t consider there have been any great challenges that I have had to overcome – and this is a key part of what makes the industry so great! It is open to anyone and more than ever there is a huge requirement – with the industry needing to attract a further 200,000 workers over the next five years to meet demand.

It’s true to say that there has been an element of ‘surprise’ from people when they find out what I do, but it hasn’t been a negative reaction, more of one of interest and intrigue. The real challenge is to get women to consider construction as a viable sector in which to have a flourishing career.

Industry collaboration required to showcase women pursuing a different range of careers

The industry needs to collaborate and make sure that at every opportunity we are showcasing women who pursue a different range of careers across construction and engineering. We need to speak positively about these careers so that women see it as a viable, exciting sector where opportunities are great and there is true potential to progress. Then there’s the matter of retention, once women have entered the industry, they need to feel in a position that they can, for example, progress, perhaps move into different areas of the industry.

Roles to suit all

Children painting Considerate Constructors Scheme hoardingWe also need to show the diversity of roles available; it isn’t just about highlighting the more technical roles which require degree-level qualifications, it’s also about showing that anyone can work in the industry.

A critical part of this is to engage with women at a young age – this is when key perceptions are formed about certain roles in society. The Considerate Constructors Scheme works with constructors and primary schools throughout the UK who hire industry mascots which are taken into the school and used as a fun way to educate young children about the sector as well as safety.

Alongside the current industry mascot, ‘Ivor Goodsite’, we are pleased to be launching a new female industry mascot to help exactly this cause. The mascot’s name and character will be revealed soon, so keep an eye out on the Scheme’s website. Perhaps Womanthology might be able to interview her in the future!

Continuous improvement moving forward

Moving forward I will continue in my role as a monitor and board member to support sites, companies and the industry improve the image of the industry by raising standards and sharing best practice.

There’s fantastic work being done throughout construction in the UK; community engagement, environment initiatives and workforce programmes, so it’s vital that we celebrate success.

 

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