Reach, recruit and retain a diverse workforce: Building a better future for women in construction

The UK construction industry needs to recruit more workers and diversify it’s workforce – how can this be achieved?
Published 26 March 2024

With an additional 225,000 workers needed to meet UK construction demand between now and 2027, construction firms face growing pressures in recruitment and retention.

70% of construction industry employers said apprentices helped them plug skills gaps, according to a survey by St Martin’s Group. Now, more than ever, is the time for employers to harness the power of apprenticeships to grow the skills they need.

The construction industry also needs a more diverse workforce, causing many companies to reassess their hiring and retention processes.

We know that diverse teams can directly impact the success of an organisation. In fact, Deloitte indicates that businesses with more inclusive and diverse cultures achieve “2.2x higher sales and 3.2x higher profits”.

Yet, despite more women working in construction than ever before, they represent just 16% of employees in the industry. For firms eager to improve diversity, their early careers recruitment processes should be carefully considered.

That’s why we wanted to look at how companies in the construction industry can reach, recruit, and retain a strong female workforce.


Improving awareness

Early engagement with students is critical to boosting awareness of apprenticeship opportunities – particularly when it comes to talking to girls about the construction industry.

Many students first hear about apprenticeships before they study their GCSEs, but our research indicates a difference in awareness by gender, with 45% of boys alert to apprenticeships at this point compared to 40% of girls.

This is your chance to inspire the next generation of female chartered surveyors, engineers, managers and site supervisors, and that’s where relatable role models come in. It’s easier to envisage a future career when you feel represented by those seeking to inspire you, so think carefully about who should deliver your message and company values. 

Construction industry apprentice Rianna Patel warned:

If your company conducts school talks about the opportunities you have on offer, don’t send all male representatives to talk about women in construction.


Understanding your audience

In 2023, 430,000 students expressed an interest in apprenticeship opportunities when researching their options with UCAS, and 93% stated that online information influenced the apprenticeship they chose. Knowing your audience and what they want to understand about your organisation is key.

On this point, Rianna emphasises the importance of the social impact your company makes:

A lot of construction companies have accounts with local housing associations to do vital work like damp and mould surveys or fire assessments.

These things are literally saving people’s lives, so that’s what you need to be talking about. When I applied to my old firm, I discovered they did this work for the same borough I grew up in. I benefited a lot from that and it made me want to work for them.

With more young people pursuing purpose-driven careers, it’s vital to understand what motivates potential apprentices and to communicate this effectively. 

To gain an insight into how 13 – 17 year olds shape their futures, read our brand new report, Project Next Generation. This research is integral to employers seeking to improve their awareness raising, whilst understanding the support students need to make informed decisions around their post-school options.



Analysing recruitment methods

Our research shows that girls and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds receive less support during the application process, leading many to have a negative experience. 

Here, Rianna gives an honest reflection of her experience with assessment centres, which are an important step on the application journey.

Assessment centres aren’t the most accessible environments. You’re in a high pressure, competitive environment, this would be daunting for any teenager. Some people might thrive in that situation but others who are more introverted may really struggle.

So, are your recruitment processes accessible to all?

Our data shows that 25,695 18-year-old students applied to engineering courses in the 2023 cycle of which 12,945 (50%) were interested in apprenticeships. Yet, just 2,585 of these applicants, who were also interested in apprenticeships, were female.

There is clearly a significant interest in apprenticeships within the construction sector, but with less than a quarter of these candidates being female, the industry still has a way to go if they are to close the gender gap.

As an independent charity, UCAS is committed to making choices clearer for anyone taking their next step in education or career development. With 1.5 million students registering on the UCAS Hub each year and seeking advice and guidance on their future options, we can ensure apprenticeship vacancies are seen by a rich, wide talent pool.

If you’re in the process of developing your recruitment strategy to ensure fair access to all, find out more about how we can help here.


Assessing your marketing channels

If you’re looking to recruit a younger workforce, your content needs to be engaging and relatable, but above all else, it needs to exist!

Rianna explains:

People know about the tech, law and finance industries through social media, school visits and internship opportunities.

My work in construction is fascinating, but I find that people know very little about the sector, as the opportunities aren’t advertised as well.

The industry needs to reach young people and demonstrate what a career in construction could look like, by leveraging the channels potential recruits use the most.

So, what marketing channels should you consider when targeting a young, female audience?

Construction firms should utilise social media to connect with the generation they are trying to attract, Rianna states.

I use TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, and I’ve seen interesting posts by construction companies on LinkedIn.

To learn more about changing media preferences for students, read our useful blog post on the new status quo.



Your diversity policies 

To show that you are dedicated to creating an inclusive working environment, talk about your diversity policies.

Women want to know that they are a considered part of the workforce, rather than being required to fit into a male-dominated space. Publish and promote your Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) policies and gender pay gap reports to demonstrate your ongoing commitment to levelling the playing field. 

Building trust

Building trust around your organisation helps attract young people to your apprenticeships. At UCAS, 77% of students trust our messaging, along with the communications we share for our partners. 


If you’re looking to enhance your messaging and reach a new audience, contact a member of our team to explore recruitment marketing opportunities with UCAS.

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